NFL making a pass at China

By Jim O'Neill on Aug 22 2017 at 12:00 PM

The NFL has been eager to get its game in front of viewers globally for years; that was the reason behind its Yahoo trial two years ago, its brief flirtation with Twitter last year and it’s estimated $50 million deal for Thursday Night Football with Amazon Prime this season.

Audiencewise, the Yahoo and Twitter deals were just probes, testing the waters and the technology.

This year, the NFL is playing for real. It’s Amazon deal has the potential to reach a huge audience used to paying for games on pay-TV.

It’s just-announced deal with Tencent Sports, meanwhile, will give it access to an estimated 19 million Chinese consumers who’ve expressed interest in the NFL, streaming games to mobile and desktop devices for free. The NFL expects most games to be consumed on mobile devices because of the time difference between the two countries.

The exclusive deal includes live and on-demand preseason games, Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football games, as well as some Sunday afternoon games, the playoffs, the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl for the next three years.

“Our capability in production, content distribution and fans engagement will help NFL expand its audience profile and elevate the popularity of American football in China,” said Tencent VP Caitlyn Chen in a release.

Tencent Sports also has brought other big names to Chinese consumers, including global sports leagues and tournaments, basketball, soccer, tennis, winter sports and American football, among others.

“We will continue to maximize the value of the sports right owners via the partnership and enhance the digital entertainment experience for Chinese users. We are committed to contributing to the growth of China’s sports industry,” said Chen.

While just 19 million consumers will initially be targeted, Tencent reaches as estimated 960 million monthly active users via its social platforms Weixin and WeChat.

The NFL is hoping its product will be exportable, as ratings and interest in the sport has lagged over the past couple of years. Last year ratings were off 8% Y/Y, with the major issues being an audience that is aging, market saturation and an inability to attract Millennials.

This isn’t the first time the NFL has looked to China longingly … games and highlights have been available through nearly 20 satellite channels for several years since the 2009.

Even though the odds are long, the NFL sees the chance at gaining a toe hold in China as too good to pass up. Acquiring even a sliver of the addressable audience will help make up for lost eyeballs elsewhere.

Stay tuned.

Jim O’Neill is Principal Analyst and Strategic Media Consultant for Ooyala. You can follow him on Twitter @JimONeillMedia and on LinkedIn

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