Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s Chief Business and Media Officer, called the runup to 2022 an “inflection point” for the league’s lucrative TV rights, with the current broadcast deals expiring and tech giants likely to flex their financial might.
Even so, he said the NFL is taking a wait-and-see approach to dealmaking with Silicon Valley, primarily because of streaming capacity concerns.
Rolapp spoke during a league-hosted preview event ahead of next week’s regular-season kickoff. Because of the format — with NFL Network anchors moderating sessions and series of short segments breezing through a few topics — the event was no fountain of new insights. Notably, there was no mention of the national anthem controversy. Even so, it was a rare degree of access for a league whose commissioner, Roger Goodell, has been granting about as many interviews lately as the Cleveland Browns have been winning games.
Rich Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG and a noted critic of the traditional TV bundle, teed up the question of the hour as he shared the stage with Rolapp. “When do we see one of this big tech companies do to sports what they’re doing right now to traditional entertainment?” he asked.
“Our entire model is about reach,” Rolapp said. “Traditionally, broadcast television was the best way to achieve that.” Rolapp said he has “yet to see” a tech company pull off a true broadcast-scale event, especially with pockets of intense devotion, where a Philadelphia Eagles or Seattle Seahawks game can command a massive share in the local market via CBS, Fox or NBC.
“But these digital companies are working hard on reach,” he said.
Rolapp’s comments — which were marred by a faulty microphone that went unaddressed during the 10-minute session — did not extend to the anthem controversy. ESPN chief Jimmy Pitaro recently drew skepticism for declaring that the cable network would not air the anthem and risk continuing to alienate viewers, including President Donald Trump, who have been turned off by player protests and kneeling.
He was asked, however, about declining ratings over the past couple of seasons. “There’s no fear, but a healthy paranoia” in the league office, he said. “Only the paranoid survive.”
Expounding on the current view of ratings, Rolapp said: “There are a lot of things that go into ratings. Secular changes in television is one. Whether big markets don’t perform” due to weak teams is another factor. “There are things we can control and things we can’t control,” he added.
The NFL has spent the past five years looking for ways to “supplement” its reach model, Rolapp said.
At the start of the event, NFL COO Maryann Turcke offered a candid assessment. “I’m not going to sit here and say we’re not concerned about the things that happened last year,” she said. Sponsorship and advertising interest in the league, though, remains strong.