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What would it take for the Super Bowl to be exclusively available through streaming services?

The year is . Fourth week in February. After a grueling 21-week regular season and five rounds of playoffs, the Super Bowl matchup is set: Buffalo Bills versus London Jaguars. The NFL is anticipating 130 million viewers will stream the game on Netflix, which serves as the exclusive home of the Super Bowl following a multibillion-dollar deal the company signed with the league in 2040. Those who don’t have a subscription to the streaming service can pay $149 for a one-month trial that includes access to the game through one of Netflix’s 10 Megacast Super Bowl feeds. One popular Megacast option will be the Legends Room, where retired players Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and C.J. Stroud interact live with viewers while watching the game. Adam Amin, Greg Olsen and Laura Rutledge will call the game on Netflix’s main NFL channel.

Sound far-fetched? Maybe it would have been 10 years ago. While a thought exercise on the NFL making the Super Bowl a pay-per-view event is nothing new, what is new is the era we are living in. Last month’s first-ever exclusive, live-streamed NFL playoff game on Peacock felt like a seismic moment. Peacock paid $110 million to air the Kansas City Chiefs’ 26-7 win over the Miami Dolphins in the AFC wild-card round, an attempt to add to its tally of 30 million subscribers. Antenna, a research firm that tracks streaming data, estimated that Peacock had 2.8 million sign-ups over a three-day window around the wild-card game, which averaged 23 million viewers. It was the single biggest subscriber acquisition moment ever measured by Antenna.

Is the Super Bowl behind a paywall an inevitability in the next 40 years or so? “Given the rate of cord-cutting is over 7 percent, or five million homes gone every year, the odds are very good that the Super Bowl will be on a streaming platform in ‘our’ lifetime,” said Michael Nathanson, the co-founder and senior managing director of research firm MoffettNathanson, which provides trends in media, communications and technology to institutional investors.

NFL officials have repeatedly stated that the league is committed to broadcast television and the broad distribution of games. Hans Schroeder, the NFL’s executive vice president of media distribution, told reporters last month, including The Athletic, that “you can’t reach 190 million people throughout the course of the year without having very broad distribution of your content, and that’s always been a bedrock for us. … Every one of our games is on broadcast television, at least in their market, and probably 90 percent of our games are on broadcast as their core platform. For us, it remains really important.”

Sean McManus, the longtime chairman of CBS Sports, who is retiring from his post later this year, noted that such a conversation can’t happen until after this current set of NFL media rights expires. The league’s media rights agreements with CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN and Amazon are worth about $110 billion and run through the 2033 season. GO DEEPER Super Bowl LVIII projections: Chiefs meet 49ers in rematch of 2020 game

“There’s no immediate worry,” McManus said. “(NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell has been very upfront that broad distribution is part of the reason the NFL is successful as it is. Yes, the NFL expanded with some games on Peacock, including a playoff game. … But when you have 56 million people watching the AFC Championship Game (on CBS), that’s a great success story. I can’t speak for Netflix, Amazon or Apple whether it makes business sense for them to pay hundreds of millions for a playoff game, but I do know linear television is extremely important to the success of the NFL .”

Along with McManus, David Levy, the former president of Turner Sports and now the co-CEO of Horizon Sports & Experiences, a sports marketing agency and consultancy, also believes that the Super Bowl will remain on broadcast, free-to-air television for years to come.

“Broadcast and free-to-air is still the largest reach vehicle,” Levy said. “You’re always building your next generation of fans, and they want the place to get the largest reach. Thirty years from now? I can’t answer that because I don’t know who will be the commissioner of the NFL and who would be owning these teams.”

Levy was very positive about the NFL product appearing on streaming services. But he noted an important point: Any streaming service airing the Super Bowl exclusively would need its own production capabilities and enough of a proof of concept with production elements where the NFL would feel confident to put its most important property in their hands. That’s not something Netflix or Apple have at the moment.

“Everyone expects to turn on network television and see a Super Bowl,” said Tracy Wolfson, the NFL sideline reporter who is calling Sunday’s game for CBS. “I think you alienate those that cannot watch it. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more playoff games there, but I think when it comes to the Super Bowl, it is how many eyeballs and making sure it is available for all to watch.” A Super Bowl behind a streaming paywall seems far-fetched. But 10 years ago, it was hard to imagine a Chiefs-Dolphins playoff game on something called Peacock. (Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

William Mao, a senior vice president of global media rights at Octagon, a sports and entertainment agency, believes we are not likely in the next 20 to 25 years to see a Super Bowl airing exclusively on a streaming service in the U.S. if free-to-air TV penetration (remains larger than any single subscription video-on-demand base. He said his answer would change only when (or if) a paywall streamer has the subscriber reach capacity near to the free-to-air penetration of today.


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