Eight years ago, the NFL Hall of Famer hired Lynn Swann in a clumsy and lumbering effort to preserve the blackout rule.
The league, coming under increasing pressure from its position that games that didn’t sell out within 72 hours of kickoff would not be televised, brought the anti-blackout crowd with the “pay TV” bogeyman in connection.
“Pay TV lobbyists staged a controversy to change the current rule and charge fans for games they currently watch for free,” said the website, which runs the league’s Protect Football on Free TV initiative pushes forward, in 2015. “We cannot let these special interests dictate what is best for NFL fans and their communities.”
Fast forward to 2022 and one of the league’s most important TV packages is, you guessed it, exclusively available on pay TV. Although teams participating in Thursday night’s games on Amazon Prime will have their competitions broadcast free of charge in local markets, everyone else must: (1) have access to Amazon Prime; (2) enjoy high-speed Internet access that allows the games to be televised in a fun and effective manner; and (3) understand how to activate and use Amazon Prime from a Smart TV or other device.
The league has given Amazon Prime a strong gaming package for Thursday night, with the apparent aim of aiding efforts to get people to pay for this pay-TV product. (Nonetheless, it was inevitable that most teams would show up in the Thursday night package, since the league only mandates a given team to switch from Sunday to Thursday at most once a year.) The real test comes in September, when the casual fan prepares , Chargers chiefs on Thursday, September 15, checks their local listings and finds that the game is not available to watch in this household unless Amazon Prime has been purchased.
Audiences on Thursdays in 2022 will be much smaller than in years when an NFL network and a three-letter network simulcast. It’s a long-term game for the NFL and Amazon. And it will be interesting to see if the league and/or Amazon are fully transparent and honest when disclosing viewership numbers.
In 2017, the NFL failed to release numbers for a Ravens-Jaguars game in London streamed for free on Yahoo.com, claiming they weren’t ready. A month later they still weren’t done. Six years later, is the NFL ready for what might happen if fans aren’t ready to embrace Amazon Prime?
This means the NFL and Amazon Prime must work diligently and persistently to spread awareness about the postponement of Thursday night soccer from broadcast to streaming. Though hardcore fans of the sport know it’s coming, most casual fans are and will remain clueless — possibly until the early evening of September 15, when they’ll be hopping up and down until dawn on 57 channels and no NFL.