Does Success of Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prove America is Ready to Stream Sports?

Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime exceeded expectations for the second week in a row.

The Browns’ win over the Steelers last Thursday drew 11.03 million viewers, per Nielsen Research. That’s a 39% increase over last year’s Week 3 game between the Panthers and Texans on NFL Network.

While NFL Network is hardly CBS, it’s a channel easily accessible on cable and satellite packages. Viewers over 60 have at least heard of NFL Network; they are just learning what an Amazon Prime Video is.

A report from NBC Sports before the season learned that television sources expected the high-end TNF matchups on Amazon to draw between 5 and 7 million viewers. So, 11 million viewers for a dragged-out, miscue-riddled matchup easily topple these expectations.

The average also shows a lower than anticipated drop from Amazon’s debut of 13.03 million viewers for the Chiefs-Chargers matchup in Week 2. A low-quality game between the Steelers and Browns was always going to slip from a down-to-the-wire thriller featuring Patrick Mahomes.

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – SEPTEMBER 15: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs shakes hands with Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium on September 15, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. Kansas City defeated Los Angeles 27-24. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

For context, TNF on Amazon is averaging more than the NBA Finals on ABC, a broadcast television network. The last three NBA Finals averaged just 9 million viewers.

About the same number of viewers, 12 million, have watched TNF on Amazon as the past three MLB World Series on Fox.

Moreover, Amazon says it recorded a record number of new Prime sign-ups over the three-hour period in which the Chiefs-Chargers (debut matchup) aired.

Translation: the NFL drove more signs ups for Amazon than Black Friday and Cyber Monday ever have.

Other sports leagues hope the overwhelming success of Prime Football can quickly normalize the streaming experience for sports fans.

According to CNBC, the NBA will seek a $75 billion rights package, up from its current $24 billion deal, in 2024. The NBA won’t be able to reach that figure without a third partner, presumably either Apple or Amazon.

But the NFL’s streaming success may not carry over to other sports leagues as swiftly as they hope. For example, MLB airs on both AppleTV+ and Peacock but does not release the viewership totals. 

Why you might ask? Because no one watches MLB on Apple and Peacock.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 15: Signage is seen during the “Thursday Night Football” Season Kickoff Party Hosted by Amazon Prime and Prime Video at The Fonda Theatre on September 15, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images Prime Video)

Few properties can get a large number of old-timers to figure out the Wi-Fi password and buy a smart TV. In fact, the NFL might be the only one.

The NFL is one of one. It’s the number one program on ESPN, ABC, Fox, CBS, NBC, NFL Network, and now Amazon Prime.

So, don’t get too excited, you other less popular sports.

Looking ahead, the ratings for Thursday Night Football could slip over the next month. The next four games are hardly the flashiest of matchups. In order:

  • Dolphins at Bengals (exciting for hardcore NFL fans).
  • Colts at Broncos (mehh).
  • Commanders at Bears (gross).
  • Saints at Cardinals (zzzz).

Luckily, these lackluster matchups lead to the Bucs vs. Ravens on Oct. 27.

Later in the season, Amazon will receive a boost from the Packers (Nov. 17 against Titans), Bills (Dec. 1 against the Patriots), and Cowboys (Dec. 29 at Titans).

Prediction: the first year of NFL on Amazon Prime will average between 9 and 10 million viewers, still well ahead of expectations.

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack covers media, politics, and sports at OutKick.

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