The NFL thinks you want to watch football games that already ended. And it thinks you’ll pay $99 for the privilege. And the NFL is almost certainly right.
That may sound strange, but all evidence suggests that, in fact, hardcore football fans will leap at the opportunity.
NFL Game Pass, announced Tuesday, “consolidates” various football-streaming services from last season into what the league calls in a press release a “single-purchase premium video experience.” For $99, fans can re-play any regular season game just after the final whistle blows. They can also watch any game — regular or postseason, including Super Bowls — from 2009 onwards.
Note carefully the term “re-play.” This package is not for live games, but solely for replays of games that are old the second they’re available on the service. Using Game Pass will require diligently avoiding spoilers, staying off social media during games, and staying away from your phone, too. It will take a lot of work.
It doesn’t matter; people will pay. In fact, at $99 for the whole season, many would say it’s a steal.
The explosion of fantasy football has made fans hungry for more video of every game, every snap, every touchdown. The two leading daily fantasy sites, DraftKings and FanDuel, both of them no more than six years old, are each already billion-dollar “unicorns.” ESPN cut a major partnership deal this year with DraftKings; Yahoo, meanwhile, built and launched its own daily-fantasy platform. The rush to monitor stats and update lineups has made every sports viewer an armchair scout-slash-manager. Thus, watching a game live, when it’s on the television, is no longer enough. Fantasy players demand video content, analytics, replays and expert analysis. Paying for these features, for many fantasy nuts, can lead to real winnings.
Despite controversies over deflated balls, concussions, domestic violence and other issues, the NFL continues to mint money. Its 32 teams divided up $7.2 billion in revenue last year, and the revenue growth shows no signs of slowing. If the NFL were a corporation tracked on the Fortune 500 it would land at No. 380.
Football fans have shown, time and again, that they want more football content, and they want it now. That’s the ethos behind NFL Now, an ambitious new mobile platform the league launched before the start of last season. It was a success. By the time of the AFC and NFC Championship games, 22 million devices had connected to the product. The popularity of NFL Now has attracted big brand advertisers to the platform, including Geico, KFC, Lexus, and Coors Light. All of that led the NFL to bulk up the product for this season, turning it into a “virtual network of digital programming that runs 24/7,” in the NFL’s own words. It’s a lot of content, and it suggests there’s no limit to the amount of football-related video fans will spend money on.
Indeed, NFL digital chief Brian Rolapp, who brokers these digital deals and spearheads the creation of platforms like NFL Now, said as much in an extensive interview with Fortune last winter. “The reality is, on television right now, there’s NFL football, and then there’s everything else,” he said. “As far as I can tell, football is the only sure bet on television.”
He’s probably right, and the NFL is going to demonstrate it again by getting fans to pony up $99 for access to games that are already over. Don’t forget, this is the same sports and media powerhouse that got Yahoo to pay a reported $20 million just for the rights to live-stream a single game this October — and not a particularly exciting one at that (Buffalo Bills vs. Jacksonville Jaguars on October 25 in London).
Rolapp did say, in his talk with Fortune last season, that in its first year, “the value proposition of NFL Now was hard to understand” for some fans. “It’s hard to represent with a pithy marketing message,” he said. Here’s an idea: Football, football, football, eat it up, yum.