NFL's Kirkwood: Revamped Game Pass will be core part of European business
By Jonathan Rest
Alistair Kirkwood, managing director of NFL UK, today hailed the launch of the revamped NFL Game Pass, the digital subscription OTT service featuring live coverage of all games, in Europe, claiming it is as important a milestone as any of the regular-season matches the league has held in London over the last decade.
In June, the NFL appointed Bruin Sports Capital, the sports investment company run by former IMG chief George Pyne, and WPP, the international advertising group that holds a stake in Bruin, to promote Game Pass.
At the time, the two organisations said they would establish a new London-based company to support the initiative.
Today that business was revealed as OverTier, with Sam Jones named as chief executive. Jones most recently served as group managing director and main board member of media giant Bauer, responsible for building the digital operation across hundreds of brands.
The 2017 NFL regular season kicks off on Thursday.
Game Pass has been operational across Europe in recent years, but Kirkwood conceded today that it has long been considered an afterthought by league executives.
He told Sportcal: “We’re a league pretty good at putting live events on, events that excite people around the world, and we’re relentlessly wanting to improve. We started the Game Pass as a digital product a few years back. It was about satisfying a relatively small number of people, and was, in truth, a side bit of the business, not core.
“But over the years consumption trends and technology have changed, while attention spans have shortened. We are at stage now where our fans are more cultured and aware, and to an extent demanding.”
Kirkwood said the decision to team up with Bruin and WPP was made to “move this OTT opportunity forward,” adding: “We’d been seeing growth in the [Game Pass] subscriber base, despite our lack of proficiency in the area.”
He continued: “In the next five years, this will be seen as a major part of our business.”
For the first time, four NFL games are to be played in London this year: two at Wembley Stadium, which has staged games every year since 2007; and two at Twickenham, a new venue in 2016.
Kirkwood said: “Having four games in London this a year, half a regular season, is major moment for the league. I have no doubt we will look back at this season and this [Game Pass] product launch as important as any International Series game we play.”
Kirkwood believes Game Pass can thrive in the UK alongside the coverage of established broadcasting partners in pay-TV’s Sky public-service broadcaster the BBC.
He added: “We have a funnel with the BBC where we have three live games [two of the London games plus the Super Bowl] and 44 weekly episodes of highlights shows, which is intended to bring people into the game. Sky then offers us volume with 106 live games.
“Game Pass comes in over and above that. It talks to fans and gives them control over how they experience the NFL. They choose what they want, when they want to watch and how, whether it’s condensed or long-form."
The new-look Game Pass has been built by, and is powered across 61 European countries and territories, by Deltatre, the international sports media services company acquired by Bruin in 2016.
The service allows users to watch live games across five devices. Multiple games can be watched at once, while the NFL RedZone, the channel which features live action cut-ins as teams approach the opposition's end zone, is also available.
Also included is the NFL Network, the NFL’s dedicated channel, and various NFL documentary series and archive content.
The revamped Game Pass will cost £139 ($181.40) for the year, albeit the league is offering a special launch price of £84.99 for a limited time. Fans can also access the service on a weekly basis for £14.99.
Jones, who reports into Pyne, said: “Bruin and WPP have built an organisation that will lead the change in how we watch live sports, informing the future of TV over the next five years. The NFL is an iconic and data-driven sport which is perfectly placed to lead all others in the OTT experience for its fans.”