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Domestically dominant, opportunity overseas: What the media and consumer data says about NFL fandom

Daniel Monaghan, a senior analyst at Ampere Analysis, crunches the media rights revenue and consumption numbers to understand why the NFL reigns supreme at home but has plenty of room left for international growth.

5 September 2023 Daniel Monaghan

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The National Football League (NFL) is the most lucrative sports league in the world, generating media rights revenue of almost US$8 billion in the 2022-23 season, which will rise to over US$12.5 billion in 2023-24.

Such figures are primarily driven by the league’s ability to capitalise on its domestic dominance; it has the largest fanbase of all domestic leagues at 44 per cent of US sport fans, ahead of the National Basketball Association (NBA) with 40 per cent.

The proportion of US sport fans who follow at least one NFL team is higher still at 60 per cent, highlighting the cultural significance of the league and its teams, with the Dallas Cowboys proving the most popular – and the most valuable - franchise.

While the NFL has successfully maintained growth in the value of domestic rights deals signed with key traditional broadcast partners such as ESPN, Fox, CBS and NBC, it has concurrently adjusted its rights strategy to reflect changing consumer habits, amid an environment of cord-cutting and the shift towards streaming.

Deals with Amazon for Thursday night games and Google's YouTube TV for the Sunday Ticket out-of-market package signal the league’s acknowledgment of streaming as an increasingly vital medium to reach fans, particularly harder-to-reach younger fans for which it under-indexes. Those streaming partners now account for almost a third of the league’s domestic media rights value.

Although the NFL continues to reign supreme at home, its appeal has been far more limited in international markets. To date, the NBA has been the most successful major league export, enjoyed by a quarter of sports fans in non-US markets surveyed by Ampere, but this falls to eight per cent for the NFL.

As such, just under two per cent of the NFL’s total media rights revenue is generated internationally, compared to 21 per cent for the NBA. There are some markets in which the league has managed to make strong inroads, though, such as Germany and Brazil, where it is followed by 15 per cent of sports fans, and to a lesser extent Australia and the UK.

To build upon this and cultivate new fans, a multifaceted international growth strategy has been developed, across both media and non-media avenues.

On the media side, the league’s broadcast partnerships with the likes of Sky Sports in the UK are supported by a novel ten-year distribution deal with DAZN to boost availability of the ‘NFL Game Pass’ direct-to-consumer (DTC) product globally.

Non-media initiatives include an expansion of the International Series of matches to include fixtures in Germany, the ‘Vision28’ campaign to have flag football added to the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games, grassroots participation and professional player pathway programmes, and at the individual-franchise level, expansion of the International Home Marketing Area (IHMA) initiative, which permits franchises to pursue commercialisation and marketing opportunities in designated territories around the world.

If these avenues can work in tandem to raise foreign market investment, participation and general interest in American football, the NFL may be able to close to the gap on the NBA as a truly global property, adding to its domestic success.

Ampere Analysis is a data and analytics partner of SportsPro’s commercial guides, which provide SportsPro+ premium members with a one-stop shop to access the latest commercial activity and contract terms for many of the leading sports properties. Access every guide here or sign up for SportsPro+ today.

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