The NFL is spending a lot of time, energy and money to reach fans via Internet, tablet, mobile and various outlets such as NFL Red Zone and NFL.com.
But the NFL still remains a staunch supporter of its No. 1 link to fans: TV.
“What sports still does that no other property can do, is aggregate mass audiences at one time, and TV still does that best,” said Brian Rolapp, COO for NFL Media. “That’s the business we’re in. If you put the [Baltimore] Ravens and the [Denver] Broncos on the Internet, and 25 million people watch [as did during the season-opening game last Thursday on NBC], it doesn’t work. It would break.”
Rolapp, who in May will replace the retiring Steve Bornstein as president of NFL Network, made his comments following a 2013 NFL Kickoff Weekend that saw NBC’s “Thursday Night Football” (September 5) and “Sunday Night Football” (September 8) and ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” (September 9) at or near the top of the ratings among all shows on each respective night.
The first game of the “Monday Night Football” doubleheader actually won the night among all networks on broadcast and cable in households, viewers and “all key male demos,” according to ESPN. The game, between the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles, peaked at nearly 21 million viewers, per ESPN.
“We are the only sport where every single game is free on over-the-air television, even in the local market when it is on ESPN or NFL Network,’” said Rolapp. “We are a mass-distributed reach vehicle. That’s what we spend our time doing, and then adding different products along with that.”
Even with the other options that viewers and fans have, “TV consumption is on the rise,” said Rolapp, who was speaking as part of a Sports Business Summit panel in New York on Tuesday, hosted by Bloomberg. “TV is the most effective way for us to get national games to a mass audience.”
NFL national partners are CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC. The league-owned NFL Network has expanded its Thursday night game schedule. DIRECTV currently has the rights to NFL Sunday Ticket, which enables viewers to watch every game except those being shown by network local affiliates.
Rolapp emphasized that the NFL is steadfast behind building online, digital, mobile, tablet and other places where fans congregate,. The strategy, however, is to expand those areas as support for the games that are shown nationally and locally on TV.
“Some 70% of our fans are doing something else while watching [an NFL game] on TV: Twitter, Facebook, fantasy,” said Rolapp. “But that all enhances the experience of the TV game. We know that TV consumption is up; more people are watching NFL games than even one or two years ago.
“For us, the way we measure our business is, Is consumption going up and is the pie growing,” said Rolapp. “For us, both of those things are happening. The distribution model may change in the future, but right now TV is where the revenue is.”
Brief Take: NFL viewership is on the rise, and online, mobile and tablet have a lot to do with that, but the league’s COO said that TV is still by far the best way to reach a mass audience that “would break the Internet.”