Netflix Christmas NFL Games Could Meet Early Resistance From Advertisers

Can there ever be too much NFL on TV? Netflix is about to find out.

The streaming giant is likely to meet early resistance in its effort to woo advertisers to two Christmas Day NFL games that it has secured for next season, according to four people familiar with the current “upfront” market, during which U.S. entertainment companies try to sell the bulk of their commercial inventory for their next programming cycles. While Netflix has yet to put a formal offer for advertising in the games in front of potential sponsors, one discussion built around price envisioned a 30-second ad costing as much as $400,000, according to one of these people, and early talks have not yet proven convincing.

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Netflix declined to make executives available for comment.

The company intends to stream two games — one between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers, and another featuring the Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans — on Dec. 25, 2024. The deal, unveiled in May, has created all kinds of anticipation that Netflix will bid for more live-sports rights in the near future, and reveals its growing interest in creating content that draws large live crowds as it invests in its own ad-supported subscription tier.

But those NFL contests will appear well after the bulk of holiday purchasing has been completed, some executives caution, and are not expected to create as much demand from advertisers who need to spend in the fourth quarter. What’s more, says one of these people, Netflix seems eager to sell advertising packages that would require football advertisers to buy inventory in other properties, which would include entertainment programming, rather than selling the games on a stand-alone basis. “That will not fly in this marketplace, and not having any other NFL is going to be a problem,” says one executive familiar with recent outreach from Netflix.

The early pushback puts a spotlight on an interesting debate: In the streaming era, when sports broadcasts remain the one format durable enough to lure the large simultaneous crowds that Madison Avenue and distributors crave, can leagues and entertainment companies oversaturate the market?

There have been signs that it’s indeed possible.

Major League Baseball encountered challenges placing a package of Sunday games with a new venue after NBC rejected the league’s efforts to renew its original deal at a higher price, according to people familiar with the matter. MLB eventually struck a deal for the games with Roku, a streamer that has little previous experience producing its own sports telecasts. ESPN recently sub-licensed two College Football Playoff games to Warner Bros. Discovery, in the belief those rights might be more easily monetized by letting a rival network run them.

The NFL’s introduction of “Thursday Night Football” via CBS in 2014 prompted a slowing down of the market for Super Bowl commercials. Advertisers realized they could run campaigns in cheaper Thursday-night games across a single season rather than blowing more than $4 million on a single spot.

The NFL has been one of the biggest backers of adding new game inventory to the nation’s viewing schedule. In addition to launching “Thursday Night Football” off its own NFL Network, the league has created a bespoke “Black Friday” game for Amazon Prime Video and offered post-season games for streaming on NBCUniversal’s Peacock.

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But other leagues may be considering similar ideas at a moment when TV networks see little alternative to paying exorbitant rights fees for sports. During the current season, the NBA experimented with a tournament that it has now dubbed the NBA Cup. Such a maneuver creates more inventory even as the league is entrenched in talks for new rights contracts with current rights-holders Disney and Warner Bros, Discovery, as well as Amazon and NBCU, which have bid for new packages of games slated to air on Warner’s TNT through next season.

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