Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Is streaming the future of football? The first streaming-only NFL games draws customers and criticism

Kellyn Taylor
Illustration Kellyn Taylor

Though the Jan. 13 Wild Card game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins is the fourth coldest game in NFL history, this is far from the most popular topic of discussion surrounding it. The frigid weather and the game itself got overshadowed by this milestone: it was the first playoff game in any U.S. sport to be exclusively available on a streaming service. 

The Chiefs’ 26-7 win over the Dolphins was solely available on Peacock, the NBC-based streaming service. Since its founding in 2020, Peacock has showcased a variety of NBC television shows like “The Office,” “Law and Order SVU” and “America’s Got Talent,” as well as movies and live sporting events. As of December 2023—seven months since making a deal with the NFL—Peacock is home to over 30 million paid subscribers, compared to nine million in 2021, according to Yahoo! Finance. 

Throughout the 2023 regular season, NBC offered football games on both Peacock and their television channel—however, they did not air the Wild Card game on cable television. Instead, fans had to purchase a Peacock subscription to watch the game, which ranges from $5.99 a month to $11.99 a month. According to the Associated Press, NBC paid the NFL $110 million for the rights to stream the game on Peacock. 

The NFL also jumped to only streaming Thursday Night Football games on Amazon Prime, which paid $11 billion for this prime-time opportunity for the next 11 seasons. So far, the endeavor has been a success for Amazon as the games average 13 million viewers, with ratings up 25 percent from 2022. 

As the NFL takes advantage of these streaming deals, the fact that football games will soon only be available on platforms like Amazon Prime and Peacock can be a barrier for people who rely on cable television to watch the NFL and/or cannot afford the monthly subscriptions. Many fans have criticized the NFL’s shift from cable television to streaming services, especially the choice to host a highly competitive playoff game like the Wild Card game exclusively on Peacock. 

“When it’s something as big as a playoff game, the accessibility to watch it wherever you are is pretty important,” said junior Tucker Stikeman in an interview with The Beacon. “Putting it behind an extra paywall as opposed to being able to see it normally on NBC, as you used to be able to, that’s just unnecessary.” 

New York Congressman Pat Ryan was very vocal about his complaints against a streaming-only playoff game. In a press release, Ryan shared a note he sent to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“It’s a disgrace,” Ryan said “Fans already face exorbitant prices to watch every game during the regular season; they don’t deserve to be squeezed even further by greedy corporations.” 

“The NFL and NBC must make this right,” Ryan continued. “I’m requesting that you offer the game on broadcast television, end the exclusive and exploitative streaming deals for good, and commit to making games more affordable and accessible for fans to watch throughout the season.” 

The NFL did not comply with Ryan’s request, and the game was shown on Peacock as scheduled. The Wild Card game between the Chiefs and Dolphins drew 23 million viewers, but it was the lowest-viewed game of the round. According to Forbes, the Browns vs. Texans (shown on NBC cable and Peacock) game drew 29 million viewers, the Lions vs. Rams (shown on NBC cable and Peacock) drew 36 million viewers, and the Packers vs. Cowboys (shown on FOX) drew 40 million viewers. 

Despite fans being unhappy with how the Wild Card game was shown, it was still a success for Peacock’s growth as 2.8 million people joined the service. Dissatisfied with the decision, fans are still willing to pay Peacock to watch an NFL playoff game. 

“I realize the NFL is a business and it’s all about money getting a game on streaming services,” said sophomore Brendan McNamara in an interview with The Beacon. “That only reels in more money because there are so many fans [who] will pay for a subscription to Peacock just to watch that game.” 

The switch does beg the question of whether more NFL playoff games will be only available via streaming in the future. Super Bowl LVIII will air on CBS, but it will also be available on CBS’s streaming service, Paramount Plus. No other playoff games will be only on streaming this season, but considering the success of the Wild Card game, the NFL might consider making more streaming only playoff games in the future.

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