What NFL debut on Amazon means for watching sports

The revolution is here. And you won’t be able to participate without a Smart TV.

Thursday night brings the inaugural streaming-only regular-season NFL game when Chargers-Chiefs begins Amazon’s season-long package of exclusive broadcasts of “Thursday Night Football.” It’ll be Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit. It’ll be primetime. It should feel big. It is big. Not just for the game itself — a better matchup than Thursday nights traditionally feature — but for what will be a watershed moment in sports TV that should have ramifications across the medium.

We should note that this is far from the first high-profile sporting event to be exclusively streamed, or even exclusively streamed on Amazon, as Yankees fans are well aware. In addition to the 21 Yankees games being exclusively streamed over Prime Video this year, there’s another baseball package on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service. ESPN+ has also exclusively streamed some Big 12 football and basketball games for a few years, and if you’re a soccer fan, you’re well used to watching games outside of linear TV.

The UEFA Champions League is in its third season of being broadcast almost entirely on Paramount+, CBS’s streaming package. To watch most English Premier League games, you need a Peacock subscription, and in the UK, Amazon had a 20-game exclusive EPL package for a few years. ESPN+ exclusively holds the U.S. rights to the German Bundesliga and Spanish La Liga; Paramount+ has the same for the Italian Serie A and Scottish Premier League.

“Thursday Night Football” broadcasts on Amazon will be the first NFL games available only to users of a specific streaming service.
Go Nakamura for New York Post

But pretending any of that holds the same weight as a primetime NFL package would be somewhat ridiculous.

The NFL is the most-watched program in America. It is our national sport. An audience of 10 million for a primetime game on network television would be considered quite low, and Amazon reportedly promised advertisers 12.5 million. (The Post’s Andrew Marchand has reported that industry expectation is closer to 7 or 8 million.)

Exactly what to expect when it is on Amazon is a question we can only guess at until numbers are released.

Our guess, though, is that most people won’t have much trouble figuring this out.

It’s noteworthy, first of all, that Amazon Prime has a massive subscriber base. According to the company itself, there are 80 million active users of Prime Video —  a whole lot more reach than ESPN+ or Peacock.

To a lot of people, this also won’t feel especially sudden. There’s been a strong PR and marketing effort to make the audience aware that this is happening, and a lot of the public is used to the idea of streaming sports.

Kirk Herbstreit, Al Michaels and Roger Goodell speak on stage during Amazon Presentation At 2022 IAB NewFronts on May 2, 2022 in New York City.
With Kirk Herbstreit and Al Michaels in the broadcast booth, Amazon has told advertisers they expect to draw almost 13 million viewers each week.
Getty Images for Amazon

Regardless of whether that’s the only way to see a certain event, young people in particular (including yours truly) are generally comfortable with streaming. And even though a lot of the events that have been exclusively available via streaming to this point have been at least somewhat niche, there’s still a lot of people who have gotten used to the idea that they might need the internet to watch the game.

That doesn’t mean this won’t go off without a hitch. The Yankees games on Amazon have occasionally been hindered by audio synchronization issues. And there is certainly a segment of the audience that will struggle to figure out how to stream or simply doesn’t have a subscription. Particularly early in the season, there is always potential for unforeseen issues.

But as the sports world watches the reaction on Thursday night, with the Pac-12 in particular reportedly eyeing streaming platforms for its next TV deal, we’d bet on things going smoothly.

Today’s back page

New York Post

Enjoy it while it lasts

Brian Daboll, left, celebrates with Daniel Jones.
Brian Daboll celebrated with Daniel Jones after the Giants’ first Week 1 win in six seasons.

Is this what it feels like to be in a city that feels good about its sports? It’s been so long we almost forgot.

Maybe — probably — it’s fleeting. And maybe it’s even a stretch to feel optimistic right now. But after a decade of losing, New York will take what it can get.

And right now, it has two baseball teams in the thick of a pennant race, the Giants at 1-0 for the first time since 2016 and everyone else with at least some shred of early-season optimism.

OK, yes, things could be better for the Jets. And the offseason could have gone better for the Knicks and Nets. And the Islanders. But beggars can’t be choosers.

Even this version of optimism, the one that acknowledges that we’re stretching the definition to its breaking point, has been rare around here lately. And there is every chance it could evaporate a few weeks from now, if both football teams begin to fade.

So take some care this week, as Aaron Judge continues mashing home runs, the Mets try to stay ahead of the Braves and the Giants try to move to 2-0 at home, to feel good about your teams. Allow yourself to get a little carried away about what the Rangers can do off the heels of their conference finals run or what the Jets can be once Zach Wilson returns from injury.

New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Judge #99, celebrates with New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson #28, after hitting his 56th homer of the season in the 6th inning.
Aaron Judge, Josh Donaldson and the Yankees have had plenty to be happy about this season.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

You want to convince yourself the Nets can avoid being a tire fire set alight by ego? Now is the time. That balloon might get popped eventually, but it won’t be this week.

How long has it been since you could even make an argument for optimism across the city’s sports landscape? Surely, at least the Obama administration.

It’s not likely to last long, but that is all the more reason to revel in it now.

Is the baseball rivalry dying?

It would be wrong to say Yankees-Red Sox doesn’t have any juice as the two teams faced off this week at Fenway Park. But almost none of that came from the rivalry itself.

Judge’s chase for 61 home runs and the Yankees trying to gain momentum going into October are the reasons to watch, the reasons this game is marketable. Not because there’s bad blood between the Yankees and Red Sox. Not because it’s a rematch of last year’s Wild Card game. Not because the matchup feels like an event.

Aaron Judge hits his 57th home run of the season against the Red Sox on Tuesday.
Aaron Judge’s home run chase overshadowed any animus you might expect from the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

It’s common practice to refer to Yankees-Red Sox as the greatest rivalry in sports. Twenty years ago, maybe that was true. Now, it feels impossible to make a serious argument for that.

That’s in part due to the Red Sox having struggled this season, but this isn’t a new phenomenon and this was a playoff matchup as recently as last season. It’s also not limited to this rivalry. The Mets and Braves are fighting for a division title, but do Mets fans harbor a deep personal dislike for Ronald Acuña Jr., or Braves fans for Jacob deGrom? Giants fans might root against Clayton Kershaw, but there’s not a hatred there. The atmosphere at the ballpark does not look special on TV or feel special in-person.

Compared to other sports, these rivalries feel painfully mild. Maybe that’s part of why baseball struggles to market itself. There is no reality TV element to the sport, and as a result, exceedingly few regular-season games that a neutral fan feels as though they must watch.

The Seahawks and Broncos are as far from traditional rivals as can be, but there was more animus at Lumen Field for Russell Wilson’s return on Monday than any Yankees-Red Sox game this season.

There’s nothing Rob Manfred can do about that — these things cannot be manufactured — but it is a bit of a shame.