Deeper Dive—How Amazon can launch a sports bundle by 2022

CCS Insights dropped a monster list of predictions for 2019 and beyond. The guesses for the video industry range from reasonable (AV1 beats out HEVC by 2022) to outlandish (Netflix opens its own movie theaters) to downright plausible (Amazon launches a sports bundle).

Amazon has already shown an aggressive streak when it comes to sports rights, snapping up two more years of the NFL’s Thursday Night Football in the U.S. and three years of Premier League soccer in Britain. As CCS envisions it, Amazon won’t settle for what it already has and before long, it will have enough sports rights to necessitate an add-on bundle by 2022.

“The company is forced to offer a bundle of sports programming for Prime customers to support its growing portfolio of broadcast rights. It expands its activities to become a fully fledged provider of sports programming, competing against local broadcasters in some countries. Access to its sporting output is offered as an optional add-on bundle to Amazon Prime Video. It may also introduce advertising to support its push into linear TV; another option could be event-based advertising,” CCS wrote in its predictions.

Amazon certainly has the money to keep funding its sports rights spree and there are some interesting options available right now. Besides Disney selling off Fox’s 22 regional sports networks, distribution deals for many major sports leagues are expiring soon. According to BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield, deals coming up for renewal include the Sunday Ticket NFL option in 2020, the MLB in 2021, all NFL packages in 2021 and 2022, the NHL 2022 and the NBA 2025.

In a comprehensive research note, Greenfield suggests that tech platforms like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google could be in good positions to wrest valuable sports rights away from their traditional broadcast homes. But so far, considering its ability to secure incredibly important properties like the NFL and Premier League, Amazon is out in front of its tech competition and Greenfield posits some scenarios that would keep Amazon in the lead and help it build its sports bundle.

Greenfield imagines Amazon could potentially offer $3 billion per season for Monday Night Football and snatch it away from ESPN, which currently pays $2 billion per season. He said the NFL might be game if the price is right.

“The NFL was willing to hurt the reach of MNF by shifting it to cable from broadcast back in 2006 given the dollars offered (and shifting Sunday Night Football at the same time from cable to broadcast). In turn, would further hurting viewership by shifting to a digital streaming platform be tolerable if the dollars were so much bigger for a long-term contract?,” Greenfield asked.

He also imagined a scenario where the NFL further splits up rights and Amazon is able to buy the early AFC games while the afternoon AFC games remain on broadcast television.

Greenfield also imagined Amazon buying the YES Network and claiming the valuable New York Yankees rights that come with it.

“What makes that so interesting to us is that diehard fans will find/seek out the content. If you are watching YES Network nightly to watch the Yankees, you will seek it out on Amazon,” Greenfield wrote.

So, there are options out there for Amazon to build up its sports offering. But it would likely need to sell advertising against such costly content and it’s arguable that Facebook or Google is better equipped to attract advertisers.

But Amazon has slowly but surely been strengthening its presence in the video and TV advertising space. The company has been testing more video ads this year and is rumored to soon be launching an ad-supported video streaming service through IMDb.

Amazon is also rumored to be building its own video ad placement platform for OTT video, an ad exchange that would function similarly to Google’s DoubleClick or Comcast’s Freewheel.

As the Wall Street Journal pointed out when Amazon first signed an NFL streaming deal in 2017, Amazon has lots of possibilities to drive ad revenue. The company has lots of customer and subscriber data it can use to target ads during the streams. Amazon could also integrate Alexa voice commands into ads that run during games, and the company could easily direct customers to its e-commerce platform.

Amazon clearly has the opportunity to acquire more sports rights in the near future, and it has many ways to recoup its investment through advertising. So, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine Amazon having a sports bundle up and running by 2022 or possibly sooner.