Courtesy NBC Sports

Peacock’s $100 Million Gamble with the NFL

David Deal


Will the Peacock streaming service strut like its namesake bird? By becoming the first business to host an exclusively livestreamed NFL playoff game, the challenger brand is making the kind of bold move that can put an upstart on the map. Airing the January 13 wild card game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins is also a $100 million gamble for a business that lost nearly $3 billion last year. But the ball might be bouncing Peacock’s way, as the onset of a brutally cold weekend and the #trayvis effect could boost viewership and sign-ups.

Peacock was launched just three years ago by NBCUniversal. Thirty million people subscribe to Peacock, compared to 247 million who subscribe to Netflix. Peacock has set itself apart by airing live sporting events. According to The New York Times, during one weekend in September, Peacock streamed 51 live sporting events. By contrast, Netflix avoids licensing sporting events, preferring to launch its first branded event in November 2023. In May, Peacock and the NFL agreed for Peacock to host a playoff game. Thus Peacock joined competitors such as Amazon Prime and YouTube that have paid enormous sums to jump on the NFL bandwagon.

The New Hollywood streaming businesses have good reason to cozy up to the NFL, one of the world’s most valuable brands. Nielsen (via Sportico) says the NFL accounted for a 93 of the 100 most-watched TV broadcasts in 2023.

But paying $100 million to air a game is no small amount of money for a business that is bleeding cash. Exclusively airing a playoff game has also triggered a backlash from fans who are upset that a high-profile game would be restricted to a streaming audience. By contrast, Amazon Prime’s Thursday Night Football matches are less competitive. Amazon can offset $11 billion it pays the NFL (over 11 seasons) by relying on TNF to fuel the huge Amazon Ads business. Peacock needs the game to boost viewership and drive subscriptions. Success is by no means assured.

But Peacock enjoys some advantages. Watching the game will cost only $6 — the monthly fee for Peacock’s least expensive tier. Subscribers could cancel right after the game, but NBCUniversal is betting that they’ll stick around long enough to sample other Peacock entertainment. It’s also likely to be one of the coldest games in NFL history, as a winter storm holds much of the United States in an icy grip. And it’s expected that Taylor Swift will be on hand to watch Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce. Let’s face it: Taylor Swift is the best thing to happen to the NFL since the invention of the forward pass. Swifties will happily fork over $6 for a cut-way glimpse of her in a luxury box.

New Hollywood and the sports industry will watch the action in Kansas City closely. This game could be a harbinger of things to come for marquee live sports events.