Amazon extends its deal to stream NFL games, even with next season in doubt

Last week, the NFL took its 2020 Draft fully remote, with Commissioner Roger Goodell announcing picks from his basement and players celebrating with their families in their own homes—some of them on shaky video feeds.

It was the most-watched NFL Draft ever: 15.6 million people watched on the first night, close to the 16.5 million average viewership of an actual regular season NFL game last season. Over the course of the full three days of the draft, more than 55 million people tuned in across ESPN, ABC, NFL Network, or ESPN Deportes, a 35% spike from 2019.

So it should come as no surprise, even with no live sports happening right now and the NFL season still in doubt, that Amazon has extended its deal with the NFL to live stream Thursday Night Football games for the 2020, 2021, and 2022 seasons, Amazon and the NFL announced on Wednesday morning.

Amazon and its video game site Twitch will again stream 11 Thursday Night Football games for Prime and Twitch subscribers (broadcast simultaneously on Fox), and now will also get a 12th game on a Saturday late in the regular season, which will air exclusively on Amazon Prime and Twitch in addition to the local markets of the two teams.

That will be the first national exclusive game Amazon has had since its streaming partnership with the NFL began in 2017.

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA – SEPTEMBER 19: Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II 15 after defeating the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field on September 19, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)

Amazon’s previous contract for the 2018 and 2019 seasons was reportedly worth $65 million per year; terms of the new deal are not being disclosed, but the price tag is surely incrementally higher.

In re-upping through 2022, Amazon continues to grow its live sports library (Amazon last year joined Sinclair in a group that backed the Yankees’ majority purchase of YES Network from Disney, which will result in some Yankees games getting streamed on Amazon) and gets to sell advertising during the streams.

The NFL is one of the last remaining sure bets in live broadcasting. Forty-two of the 50 most-watched live telecasts of 2019 were NFL games.

The league endured two seasons marred by political controversy and ratings declines in 2016 and 2017, but that time feels like a distant memory. (Pundits declared the NFL dying or dead; they were very wrong.) TV ratings rose 5% in 2018 and another 5% in 2019, though they have not yet touched the 2015 peak. Last year, Thursday Night Football ratings rose 4%, reaching an average audience of 15.4 million viewers across Fox, Fox Deportes, NFL Network, Amazon, Twitch, and Verizon Media (parent company of Yahoo Finance), which streams regular season games on the Yahoo Sports mobile app.

The league’s revenue hit $16 billion last year and when the NFL returns, the viewership numbers are likely to be enormous.

The question is when it will return. The NBA, NHL, and MLS all paused their seasons midway; MLB has delayed the start of its season. Can the NFL begin its regular season in September as scheduled? Many states have already extended stay-at-home orders through May 18. The athletes, fans, broadcasters, sponsors, and betting companies all hope so, but that decision will depend on government guidance.

Long before NFL training camp begins, the NBA might hand the NFL a litmus test, as it plans to let some teams reopen their training facilities—with extensive safety restrictions—on May 8.

Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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