Amazon’s big bet on the NFL is a quick win for Prime

Thursday Night Football Amazon Promotional Poster

Big surprise: people love Soccer!

This is perhaps the biggest takeaway in the wake of Amazon’s First True NFL Stream, which happened last Thursday night. A huge early-season clash between two Super Bowl contenders – the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers – has become the NFL’s first regular season game to be streamed exclusively via Amazon Prime (or any other streaming service, for that matter). People in the Kansas City and Los Angeles markets could watch it on live television, but in the rest of the country it was only streamed.

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Amazon’s stream was a glitzy production with a slick animated intro, a brand new theme song, and two really great teams that produced a Great entertaining (and close) game. And, according to the closest we have to actual metrics, it was a success for Amazon.

Thursday Night Football on Prime (apparently) killed it

According to an internal memo from Vice President of Prime Video and Global Head of Sports Jay Marine, the Chiefs-Chargers game looked good for Amazon on two fronts.

First, it was supposed to be the “most-watched prime time in the United States” in Prime Video history. Second, it delivered the highest number of signups over a three-hour period that Amazon Prime (which costs $140/year) has ever seen. For reference, Prime already had about 200 million subscribers worldwide before all of this, and it’s been since last year.

Since these Prime membership stats were shared by Amazon itself, you should take them with a grain of salt. These are, of course, hand-picked metrics that don’t include specific numbers, like the exact number of people who registered Thursday night. They may not be Wrong Where fakebut they don’t tell the whole story, and nothing will until Nielsen provide official notes. These have not been published at the time of writing.

There is additional context to consider. For starters, this was the first streaming-exclusive NFL regular season game for most Americans. Given the popularity of football in the United States, there could be millions of people who have realized tonight that they needed Prime Video to see the game and signed up out of semi-desperation. I know I needed to have a long phone call with my dad to explain how he could watch the game, even though he already had Prime Video handy.

Clearly, anyone who feverishly signed up to watch football last week won’t need to do so again for the next 14 weeks of Thursday Night Football on Prime. Amazon won’t be able to brag about these subscription numbers every week. Yet even with this limited information, it’s clear that Amazon made the right choice by paying $1 billion a year for the rights to a football game every week. Although not everyone was happy with the quality of the stream. (It was mostly perfect for me.)

A finger in every pie

Tony Gonzales, Charissa Thompson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andrew Whitworth and Richard Sherman on Amazon TNF's pre-game show

Tony Gonzales, Charissa Thompson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andrew Whitworth and Richard Sherman on Amazon TNF’s pre-game show

Amazon’s pre-game show features an all-star lineup including Tony Gonzales and Richard Sherman. Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It’s possible that Amazon’s Nielsen ratings are somewhat low for the first TNF game. It would be hard to match or surpass the 17.9 million viewers that last season’s Thursday night thriller Chiefs-Chargers drew on a combination of network and cable TV, per Sports Business Journal. But even if the numbers aren’t quite there now, Amazon has this deal for another 11 years. They will come in due time.

And that’s good because Amazon probably doesn’t care much about raw ratings, beyond what it has to give ad buyers. Each new Prime subscriber is potentially $140 upfront for the company and Prime has become an essential service for many because of all the different perks it offers: free shipping, free grocery delivery, a large streaming library on Prime Video, access to Amazon Music and advertising – free Twitch streams, and now an NFL game every week.

If NFL fans prove to be loyal, long-term subscribers and Amazon’s metrics continue to increase, it could even impact the types of programming Amazon invests in for Prime Video. Not only could there be more original NFL programming outside of live games, Amazon could eventually use the momentum to secure exclusive rights to even more sporting events. It’s not entirely unreasonable to imagine Prime Video becoming some sort of full-fledged streaming-only sports network.

The worst case scenario for Amazon here could be someone buying a Prime membership and only uses it to watch football. It’s probably safe to assume that many of the new subscribers in the past week ultimately use Prime for something else that Amazon will somehow benefit from and a lot of people will probably forget to unsubscribe and get charged again later.

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That’s the genius of Amazon’s approach, like it or not. It’s something Apple can’t replicate broadcast baseball games on AppleTV+, which will never be a catch-all service for the likes of Prime. If even sports fans (a large demographic that likes to spend money) are forced to buy Prime, it’s hard to see how anything else can compete.

One way or another, even if he no longer directly controls the company, Jeff Bezos always finds a way to win.