The NFL is in talks with media companies about selling equity in NFL Films, according to sources familiar with what occurred at last week’s annual owners’ meetings, The Athletic reported this week. The most notable company that was mentioned was reportedly Netflix.
While Netflix has given no indication that it will cover live sports any time soon, it has ventured down the road of sports documentaries and reality programming. This includes titles such as “The Last Dance,” “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” as well as the upcoming reality series around the PGA.
“If you think about NFL Films … it’s a robust library with documentary power… You could see ‘Hard Knocks’ and all of those things being sold similar to Formula One or PGA right on a Netflix service,” said a team official who was in the room for the presentation, shared by The Athletic. The NFL did not respond to a request for comment. Netflix didn’t provide a comment. There’s no indication beyond The Athletic’s report that such discussions were taking place. But it is an interesting idea to consider.
Today, there are no live games on Netflix, nor is there a ton of sports content. Such a move would give the streaming service a spot in the sports arena of the streaming world.
The league has also reportedly spoken with Amazon, Apple, ESPN, Paramount, Peacock, Roku, Fubu, and DAZN regarding the NFL Media process, which were all represented on slide presentations at the meeting, The Athletic claimed. These media companies are all familiar with live sports and the benefits behind it.
The process could ultimately result in a portion of NFL Films being sold separately from its long-marketed minority stake in NFL Media. In addition, The NFL is apparently on the hunt for a partner that can help distribute content.
There’s also the question if the league will include an equity stake in NFL Media or NFL Films in the Sunday Ticket out-of-market games package. Currently, Apple is considered the frontrunner for the NFL Media stake, as well as Sunday Ticket. However, Amazon has Thursday Night Football, so there’s a big possibility it will be considered as well.
The decision is still a ways away since DirecTV’s deal for Sunday Tickets has another season to go, and there is no ticking deadline for the equity piece.
The NFL is known to drive a hard financial bargain and has become accustomed to its partners paying a premium for the privilege of doing business with Big Shield. ESPN (ABC, ESPN+), Fox (Tubi), CBS (Paramount+), NBC (Peacock), and Amazon Prime Video (NFL Network) spent upwards of $2 billion each on broadcasting rights last year for NFL packages. The National Football League, and sports leagues in general, are a necessity for networks as it is a driver of advertising and promotion, let alone one of the bigger reasons why audiences still turn to television, aside from news.
While that may fly with networks, the NFL will have to try a little harder with streamers.
Although Netflix may have no problem with the hefty price tag, being that it invested $17 billion on content last year, the service also compensated for this by upping its prices. The company raised the standard plan to $15.49/month (which used to be $13.99), its basic plan to $9.99/month (up from $8.99), and its 4K tier is now $19.99/month (compared to the previous $17.99). Will subscribers be able to afford Netflix’s newly added NFL content?
A Mount Laurel, New Jersey-based company, NFL Films was founded by Ed Sabol as Blair Motion Pictures in 1962. Sabol notoriously won the rights to film the 1962 NFL championship game and Commissioner Pete Rozelle was impressed enough to buy the new production company a year later. His son, Steve Sabol, was running the company until his death ten years ago.
Together, the Sabol men revolutionized sports TV, changing the way people view football as a sport. The cinematic slow-motion shots of players catching a spiraling football in the air, with dramatic narration, suspenseful music, and a crowd going wild, helps to grow suspense in an already riveting sport.
Sport as a visual and audio art form was a foreign concept before NFL Films, which won over 100 Emmys under the Sabols, who are featured in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
NFL Films’ most popular docu-series is “Hard Knocks,” where one NFL team is shown going to training camp before the upcoming football season begins. Season 19 of “Hard Knocks” is set to debut in August 2022 and will feature the Detroit Lions.
While “Hard Knocks” may be produced by HBO, it’s not far out of the realm to imagine Netflix having a similar reality-style show about the NFL. Granted, the service has “Last Chance U,” a slightly amateur version featuring junior college football teams following their dreams.
Netflix values a library of content differently than live rights, which it has no experience with at all. The service would pair nicely with NFL Films, which produces an array of sports content such as NFL-focused commercials, feature films, TV programs, documentaries, as well as major events, and awards shows.
Unlike other specific NFL properties like NFL Network (which has declining reach) and the NFL RedZone channel — both of which need a much more strategic fit for interested media and tech companies — the production company doesn’t necessarily need to have a partner that is interested in the league.
Netflix is already evolving into a broader entertainment hub with its video games venture, so adding more sports content to the mix would further add to its goal of reaching niche audiences.
Updated 4/8/22, 3:24 PM ET with Netflix’s decline to comment.