Fans strategize streaming platform subscriptions to watch the games they want without breaking the bank.
The 2023 NFL season is the busiest yet, with 272 games over 18 weeks. Amazon holds exclusive streaming rights to Thursday night games, and several Sunday games run simultaneously on different cable networks, leaving fans to navigate a complex blend of local channels, streaming platforms, and live sports cable networks.
This year, sports have undeniably taken center stage as a sought-after streaming asset. With dwindling subscriber numbers and the entertainment industry entangled in labor disputes, sports have emerged as a recession-proof choice for streaming platforms. Wired indicates, "With numerous channels to fill, there is a collective push to secure at least one prominent sporting event as a prized possession, a lustrous alternative should the allure of prestige TV shows dim.”
In this latest series of Pulse Labs IQ™ articles, Mobile UX for NFL News, we explore the user experience (UX) as fans navigate this plethora of streaming options. For this study, we had users record video of their mobile screens in addition to answering survey questions. We asked participants, “What TV channel or streaming service do you usually use to watch NFL full-length games?” Read on to see what we learned!
Gameday viewing costs add up fast
The average NFL fan relies on two or more streaming platforms to access NFL content, with 52% of Super Fans* using 4 or more. Fans prefer to prioritize access to the specific game they want to watch, rather than sticking to a single streaming platform, and this can make watching increasingly expensive.
YouTube's NFL Sunday ticket is $349 a year. DIRECTV's Sports Pack (bundling ESPN, NFL, and NFL Redzone) is $980 a year. Amazon Prime seems like a steal at $120 a year, but only includes Thursday night games. If a fan wanted to access every NFL season game, they'd have to pay $1,600 for access to 6 different streaming platforms, or $2,300 (or more) for eight different cable channels. Here's what fans have to say:
“I use Amazon because they stream Thursday night football and I use Hulu because I have a Hulu plus live TV subscription so I have access to local sports channels.”
—Kaitlyn, Gen Z, Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Fan*
“I use whichever channel/stream has access to the game I want. Sometimes local network, sometimes ESPN stream, sometimes YouTube NFL Sunday ticket, none of this is cheap.”
—Jeff, Gen X, Green Bay Packers, Super Fan*
Fans say they watch ESPN and Amazon Prime the most
In the fierce competition for NFL viewers preference, ESPN and Amazon Prime are the frontrunners, with 23% and 21% of fans turning into these platforms, respectively.
Amazon's strength comes from the widespread prevalence of Prime memberships. Since Thursday night games are included, it doesn't feel like an additional cost for fans. Additionally, some fans highlighted Amazon's superiority in delivering an enhanced Augmented Reality (AR) viewing experience for viewers.
“Prime cause it is free and a part of my membership, so I feel that the economics of it works out better for me.”
—Robert, Millennial, Green Bay Packers, Super Fan*
“I've used Amazon Prime for sports and I love their AR when it comes to the broadcast - however, it's not easy to find Amazon Prime at a restaurant or sports bar.”
—Jake, Gen X, New York Jets, Casual Fan
ESPN receives praise from NFL fans for various compelling reasons. Fans highlight the network's outstanding commentators and extensive coverage, along with its superior production values. With detailed statistics and carefully chosen camera angles, ESPN ensures an immersive and informative user experience.
Furthermore, ESPN's mission "To serve sports fans. Anytime. Anywhere." means they have a broad appeal that extends beyond football. It offers an impressive variety of sports, making it especially valuable for viewers who follow multiple sports.
“ESPN has good commentators and coverage. Good production values, stats, camera angles.”
— Paul, Gen X, Los Angeles Rams, Casual Fan
“ESPN works for me since it also streams cricket which I watch from time to time.”
—Prashant, Gen Z, Pittsburgh Steelers, Casual Fan
(Interested in where fans are watching short-form video? Check out our story The NFL Video Playbook.)
Newcomer YouTube provides a great lower-cost streaming experience
This season, YouTube launched NFL Sunday Ticket, and it's emerging as a popular choice due to its friendly user experience and extensive content library. Many viewers appreciate that they can easily switch from mobile to tablet to TV. Cost-effectiveness is another highlight, as users value the platform for being lower cost than typical cable sports packages.
“I live in Vikings territory, but I am a Packers fan!”
A fan explains why he subscribes to YouTube TV Sunday ticket.
—Jeff, Gen X, Green Bay Packers, Super Fan
For PlayStation 5 users, YouTube's compatibility with the gaming console simplifies the streaming experience. YouTube's capacity to accommodate diverse viewer preferences and its comparably budget-conscious price-point makes it a winning play for football enthusiasts. Here's what fans say about YouTube:
“I use YouTube because I love it. I also use ESPN for full-length games, however, if I am on my phone I will use YouTube.”
—Jinna, Millennial, Baltimore Ravens, Casual Fan
“YouTube usually has everything I need and I don't really want to pay an outrageous price just to watch a few games.”
—Heather, Millennial, Cincinnati Bengals, Super Fan*
“Because I stream from my Playstation 5, I find it easy to install and use YouTube TV.”
—Kev, Gen X, Las Vegas Raiders, Casual Fan
Looking across survey data and user feedback, the preferences in where they watch the games reveal some important trends.
- Increasing complexity in platform mix: Viewers are turning to multiple platforms, contributing to higher costs for sports streaming. True aficionados may be willing to shell out funds to get access to as much content as possible, but most people are more budget conscious. This leaves many fans factoring the cost and overall value beyond football as they look at different game-day packages.
- The growing significance of Augmented Reality (AR): AR features, like those delivered by Amazon Prime, are enhancing viewer engagement and may become a competitive edge for streaming platforms. NFL fans are leaning into community connections and continue to seek more immersive viewing experiences, so unique aspects like AR can help deepen engagement.
- Versatility and affordability are key: Platforms like Amazon and YouTube, with their optimized UX, friendly interfaces, and lower pricing, are gaining popularity, suggesting that users are budget conscious and likely to subscribe to month-to-month or pay-as-you-watch options.
Stay tuned for more insights from Pulse Labs IQ™ as we continue to delve into genre preferences when it comes to NFL content, we also take a look at local news content options that are able to engage with NFL fans, and much more in upcoming stories.
Pulse Labs provides end to end user experience research services. Contact us to tap into unparalleled user insights and analytics from real-world people.
*Super Fan refers to fans who watch 15 or more games a season, consume NFL content from 5 or more different apps, and follow more than one team.