Will Football Streaming Outpace Radio? A Sports Marketer’s Prediction

Last night, the Denver Broncos defeated the Atlanta Falcons in the annual Hall of Fame Game, with this kickoff there is a pro or college football game every week from now until the Super Bowl.

According to a recent Spotlight Survey, this is an important date for 53% of consumers who classify themselves as professional football fans.

An interesting trend is how people will consume football games this year. Based on information from last year’s season, of the 53% consumers that are football fans: 70% watched on TV, 30% listened on the radio, 29% watched via streaming service (at least one game).

Live television is still the preferred method for football consumption, but by this time next year, I expect streaming services to overtake radio and take 5% from the TV viewership. Sports marketers need to take note as advertising through streaming services is much different than linear TV.

Just look at the growth over the last couple years—from October 2016 to October 2017, streaming viewership rose 25% on NFL games. For the entirety of the 2018 season, average digital streaming viewership for all games increased 86% from 2017.

Even the Super Bowl has witnessed growth. Last year, 2.2 million viewers used a streaming service to watch the big game, a 31% increase from the previous year.

Cord cutting trends is certainly a factor, but the NFL opened the digital floodgates by reaching an extension through 2022 with CBS last year that allowed the network to stream all Sunday games to mobile devices, computers and connected TVs in the United States. I’m not predicting a sophomore slump with the deal, as the additional exposure should allow it to grow. 

While the majority of views came from cable TV, streaming is making inroads with football fans and is on the rise, while traditional TV is decreasing. The consumer data shows a rise in streaming of football games; however, there is another factor which will help my prediction and warning to marketers to come true: NFL’s rise in Europe.

This upcoming year, four games will be played in London (and one in Mexico City). The international push by the NFL is aimed at making the game a more global sport with the hopes of matching the rise of Premier League soccer in the United States.

For games not in Europe, there is an affordable streaming option. In 2017, the NFL rolled out NFL Game Pass Europe for £2.99 a week which provided access to live games, the popular NFL RedZone and original content like HBO’s Hard Knocks.

This interest and investment in Europe will affect U.S. fans and marketers in two ways.

First, the NFL and partners will increasingly invest in streaming capabilities and technology to reduce lag time and provide a better viewing experience. This will demolish a barrier for some fans interested in cutting the cord to move to streaming.

Second, the current European streaming deal, as well as the U.S. market TV rights deal with the NFL, expire in 2022. By then Amazon or Facebook might align themselves to bid for a global NFL content deal, unlike anything we’ve seen in sports. This will drastically change the roster of NFL sponsors and allow for international brands to position their product in front of a large and diverse audience. This would be especially interesting with Amazon as the route to purchase would be seamless.

Hold me to my prediction on streaming overtaking radio and taking a bite out of TV. Your marketing plan might have to change.

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