Netflix hunts for a production partner for its Christmas NFL games

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  • Netflix has been reaching out to broadcasters in hopes of one of them producing the NFL games it agreed to stream on Christmas Day, according to people familiar with the matter.
  • Netflix has been in touch with the broadcasters that currently air NFL games, including Disney's ESPN, Comcast's NBCUniversal and Paramount Global's CBS Sports, according to people familiar.
  • The NFL games — two slated for 2024 and at least one in the following years — are Netflix's first real foray into live sports.

Netflix is trying to get ready for some football.

The streaming giant has been reaching out to broadcasters this week in the hopes of finding a partner to produce the NFL games it will air on Christmas Day this year, according to people familiar with the matter. Netflix will show two games on Christmas Day this year, followed by at least one matchup in both 2025 and 2026, the company announced last month.

This is Netflix's first real foray into traditional live sports, driven by the company's ambitions to grow its advertising tier. The company signed a deal earlier this year with WWE to be the home for its live "Raw" events, but Netflix dubbed that deal as "sports entertainment." Unlike WWE, Netflix's deal for Christmas NFL games doesn't come with a full production team. That's left the streamer looking for help.

Netflix has been in touch with the broadcasters that currently air NFL games, including Disney's ESPN, Comcast's NBCUniversal and Paramount Global's CBS Sports, said the people familiar, who asked not to be named because the discussions have been private. Disney won't produce the games because it already has college football obligations the same day, two of the people said.

In-depth discussions haven't begun with the other broadcasters, but Netflix's options may be somewhat limited.

Fox and CBS Sports already produce various games in different regions each week, which could make taking on additional games for Netflix a burden, some of the people said.

There's also competition to consider.

Amazon inked a deal with NBCUniversal to produce its NFL games before its first season of "Thursday Night Football" in 2022, but there may be more resistance among current NFL partners to help out Netflix, according to people familiar with the matter. That's because Netflix could be auditioning as a future long-term media rights partner for NFL games in place of a legacy media company, such as Paramount, Fox or NBC.

The NFL has an out clause in its current media contracts that allows it to select new media partners after the 2029-30 season.

Representatives for Netflix, the NFL, NBCUniversal, CBS, ESPN and Fox declined to comment.

Welcoming Netflix

Netflix announced its entry into the NFL in mid-May ahead of its Upfront presentation, when it tried to woo advertisers for its burgeoning ad-supported platform. Netflix said last month it has reached 40 million global active users for its advertising tier, which costs $6.99 per month in the U.S. and debuted in November 2022.

In May, co-CEO Ted Sarandos told CNBC that the NFL was the right fit for Netflix because it matched the streamer's event strategy — effectively allowing Netflix to own the day. Netflix will pay the NFL roughly $75 million per game, CNBC previously reported.

For the NFL, Netflix represents the chance to reach a global, younger audience. There's also the potential to lay the groundwork for Netflix to become a future bidder on a larger package of games.

The NFL signed long-term deals in 2021 with Disney, Paramount, NBCUniversal, Fox and Amazon for its five primary packages of games.

While there is some trepidation among current media partners to produce games for a potential rival, pressure from the league — and a hefty paycheck from Netflix — could convince broadcasters to strike a deal, according to people familiar with the matter.

"There aren't that many players in the space who are capable of doing this at a level that you would want to trust when you're launching as a new partner with a league as important as the NBA or the NFL," said Shirin Malkani, co-chair of the sports industry group at law firm Perkins Coie, adding that the production side "can be a big hole for streaming partners."

Netflix and the league are looking to mirror the partnership that Amazon's Prime Video lined up with Comcast's NBC Sports for "Thursday Night Football" games.

While NBC Sports' Fred Gaudelli produced the 2022 season of "Thursday Night Football," Amazon appointed Mark Teitelman, one of its own employees, to the role of lead game producer in 2023.

Amazon produces all of its pregame, halftime and postgame coverage, but NBC Sports handles the extensive production work that goes into an NFL game, and employs the vast majority of those workers.

Netflix is interested in finding a similar partner, according to people familiar with its plans.

If a deal can't be made with one of the incumbents, Netflix could find other options with third-party producers. Endeavor Group Holdings' IMG is the production partner for Major League Soccer, which is offered through Apple.

"It's not easy to do an NFL game at a level that people are used to watching, which is a very high level and well produced," said Jonathan Miller, chief executive of Integrated Media, which specializes in digital media investment. "But there's a number of options out there that can pull it together without [Netflix] having a fully staffed sports division."

Shifting to streaming

Amazon Prime Video was the first streamer to obtain exclusive rights to NFL games as the league pushed to broaden its media partners and have more streaming offerings to widen its audience.

Amazon reached its deal to carry "Thursday Night Football" in 2021 in conjunction with the rest of the media rights deals for the NFL — an 11-year media rights agreement worth over $100 billion, with an opt out clause at the seven-year mark.

Given the recent NBA media rights negotiations, which are beckoning top dollar from various media companies, many in and around the industry expect the NFL to exercise the clause and look for new partners.

Since the NFL has inked its deal, streaming services for Comcast, ESPN and Paramount have begun to simultaneously stream games, and in some cases, hosted games exclusively. Alphabet's YouTube TV is also the new home of the "Sunday Ticket" package of games.

Sports, particularly the NFL, have been the glue holding the traditional TV bundle together — and have also proved to be a boost to streaming. NBCUniversal said in April its exclusive NFL wild-card game on Peacock helped to add, and then retain, more customers than expected.

The league has been vocal in its push to add more streaming partners in an effort to widen its audience.

That was the thinking behind the deal with Netflix to stream these Christmas Day games.

When the "Sunday Ticket" rights negotiations were underway, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told CNBC the longtime package offered only by DirecTV would move to streaming.

"I think that's best for consumers at this stage," Goodell said at the time.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.

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