Streaming services have revolutionized the world of entertainment. Netflix was the game-changer with its decision to move into streaming, which saw the company gradually rise to greater prominence.
In the wake of that, other streaming rivals appeared and this became a tremendously lucrative growth industry. It now encompasses everything from original television productions to live sports.
The NFL is one of the sports that attract the highest streaming audience figures. Due to its dominance, this sport draws in outside industries keen to capitalize on its popularity, from fashion houses to sport gambling apps that let people place parlay and other types of bets.
So how has the NFL achieved this prime position within the entertainment business?
Football has not always held the status that it does now. Back in 1994, the NFL was described by Sports Illustrated magazine as being the “no fun league.”
At that point it looked like an institution in serious decline. So what was it that turned things around for the NFL?
It can be boiled down to a single word: television. Although NFL games had been broadcast on television since 1939, it was the deal signed with Fox in 1993 that really saw the league regain its luster.
Fox Sports president David Hill instigated changes to make the game more appealing to viewers. These included the introduction of the digital ‘yellow line’ that made following the action easier on television.
That drew in new fans without alienating existing ones, with women viewers increasing dramatically. The first step towards blurring the lines between sport and entertainment had been taken.
The degree of the turnaround from the lows of the early 1990s to today is still astonishing though. The NFL sits at the pinnacle of the US entertainment industry right now and is seemingly unassailable in its popularity.
A decade ago the annual Super Bowl showpiece that ends the NFL season attracted 110 million television viewers. At the time, this was a record and no one thought the league could match it on a regular basis in subsequent years.
They have been proven wrong on that count though. Last year’s Super Bowl drew viewing figures of 112.13 million, which marked a rise of 16.55% on those of the year before.
A key factor in all of this is that combination of sport and entertainment. People do not just tune in for the game itself but for half-time performances by major stars like Rihanna that the NFL can attract.
These stars want to perform at the Super Bowl because they know they will be seen by hundreds of millions and that helps to keep viewing figures rising. Coupled with the changes to make the game more television-friendly, it has transformed the league into an entertainment juggernaut.
The format of the NFL has contributed a lot to this process too. The one-game-per-week schedule helps to build anticipation among fans, while the short regular season compared with the NBA and MLB ensures that fatigue does not set in.
It is an addictive formula and one perfectly suited to television. However, the popularity of the NFL cannot just be measured in viewing figures.
The sales of merchandise have also enjoyed staggering growth. That means items ranging from replica jerseys for the teams to hitches for trailers with the club logos on them.
The revenue earned each year by the NFL from the sale of such products is currently $3 billion. That is an astonishing sum that has grown exponentially over the past few years.
Even the fashion industry – which has never had much of a connection with the world of sport – is getting on board. Ahead of the 2022 Super Bowl, the NFL teamed up with four LA fashion brands to produce ‘Origins: An NFL Collection.’
This was touted as four different clothes collections that were inspired by the NFL and its connection to LA street culture. It is all a long way from the traditional image of football and reflects the status of the NFL as an entertainment brand.
Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, wants the profits from the league to reach $25 billion within the next four years. This target was announced more than a decade ago, when it seemed fanciful, but few would bet against it now.
The league has locked in lucrative contracts with sponsors and media companies that virtually guarantee continued growth as a sport and form of entertainment. Perhaps the only question mark is over whether the financial expansion can be sustained by whoever takes over from Goodell in the future.
The NFL has turned itself into an entertainment force without losing its traditional fans and this will continue.