Amazon wades back into the NFL on Thursday night with the Los Angeles Rams facing the Seattle Seahawks, the start of its 2021 “Thursday Night Football” telecasts on Amazon Prime.
It’s not its full-blown dive —just more of the piggyback arrangement that began last year.
Thursday night also begins the Fox broadcasts, as well as the NFL Network broadcasts that have been going on since Sept. 16.
Next year, though, Amazon Prime Video will have the exclusive rights for 15 “Thursday Night Football” games per year through the 2032 season — the $10 billion deal they made earlier this year.
The commitment to Amazon is a big step for the league, devoting one of its prime-time broadcasts solely to a streaming site. It is also another step in the relationship between the NFL and one of the most powerful men in the world — Amazon owner Jeff Bezos.
There have been reports that the league would love for that to become an official marriage, with Bezos winding up an NFL owner, perhaps of the Denver Broncos.
But he already has more influence in NFL business than any of the 32 franchise owners.
Bezos makes the NFL schedule.
His company, Amazon Web Services, takes the league’s data and scenarios and comes up with a formula that the league now uses to dictate matchups over a 17-game schedule.
“We are able to utilize the AWS cloud,” Mike North, NFL vice president of broadcast planning, said in an interview on an Amazon company video describing the process. “Every one of these lines is a different AWS computer. Each of these 3,000 AWS computers can be working on a different schedule, all at the same time, all with the same rules and all talking to each other about what works and what doesn’t.
“When we ask the computer to go up and search through the infinite space, not only does it need to do which of these games is eligible for which of these time slots and which of these stadiums is not available because of various conflicts, and what are our travel considerations … all that stuff that we are asking it to consider, in that consideration list is competitive pairing.
“The way we do that is with a competitive scoring system where we put a penalty on all the things we don’t want to see, that is both team wise and television wise.”
They do this using Bezos’ computers.
The league has final say over its schedule. But NFL executives are giddy about handing over the process to Amazon.
“The ability to work with the team at AWS for our software to run on the AWS can’t be underestimated, in the sense of being able to access hundreds if not thousands of machines on a daily, nightly, hourly basis, just the computing power that’s involved in there allows us to turn around scenarios and changes how we are able to think bigger and analyze more, but also react to things,” said Onnie Bose, NFL vice president of broadcasting.
The tentacles of Bezos are everywhere in the NFL.
Amazon provides the league with Next Gen Stats, which takes data and uses it to give coaches, broadcasters and fans details about play calling, routes and other analytical information.
According to the league, the Next Gen Stats tracking system, using Amazon Web Services, “captures player data such as location, speed, distance traveled and acceleration at a rate of 10 times per second, and charts individual movements within inches. The raw data is used to automate player participation reports, calculate performance metrics, and derive advanced statistics through machine learning (ML) on AWS.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell loves having Amazon Web Services as the league’s business partner.
“One of the key components of our success is having great partners, and AWS exemplifies that,” he said. “We like to partner with smart people who have great skills, and we have that in our partnership with AWS.
The Amazon influence on the NFL doesn’t appear to be slowing down. They are reportedly the front runner to acquire the former DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket package, at a cost of possibly $2.5 billion.
In Europe, Amazon acquired the rights to broadcast NFL games.
With all this power and influence in the league, why would Jeff Bezos want to be something as common as an NFL owner?
You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.