Amazon's first NFL game: the Brits were great, but plenty of room to improve

Amazon’s first game was fine. 

In many ways, it was the typical experience of live TV over the internet. There were bugs, but it worked. The stream did well, something that’s not always the case, especially for first-time streamers of live events. There was a sound problem that got fixed. The ads were the typical internet TV ad experience—which means plenty of repeats. 

But this was Amazon. Expectations were high. Would there be fancy ecommerce integrations? Would Amazon offering a 10% discount on a player’s jersey when they scored a touchdown?

Nope. Nothing fancy. Amazon’s stream didn’t differ much from Twitter’s streams last year—which means there’s plenty of room to improve. 

The NFL on Amazon is a big deal. The way things are going, big tech companies will eventually be home to plenty of TV content including big-ticket live events like sports. That’s still years away, but we’re getting our first glimpse at what this new arrangement might look like. 

So far, it’s not great. Amazon’s first game had many of the not-great hallmarks of internet-delivered live TV as listed above. Maybe it will get better in future games this season. For now, it’s just football on a website like it is on plenty of other websites.

The lone standout from Amazon’s first game was the alternative broadcasts—most notably the British announcers meant for foreign fans who might not have been as knowledgeable about American football. 

The commentators, Ross Dwyer and Scottish soccer commentator Tommy Smyth, drew most positive reviews on Twitter. Their calls were easily as good as regular broadcasters, and often more biting than the norm.

“It’s another disaster from the snap,” Dwyer said after one particularly terrible play from the Chicago Bears. 

The alternative stream highlighted what Amazon—and other tech companies—could bring to the table for consumers. The option was easily accessible via the video player’s menu and could be switched between the various options with almost no delay. 

There were a couple kinks. The broadcast at times alternated between the normal CBS commentators and Amazon’s Brits in a way that didn’t seem terribly natural. It’s clear that there’s still some areas to smooth over. 

The idea at its core, however, is perfect. The alternative stream didn’t just provide a way for casual fans to watch but also a way for big fans to access something new. Just the novelty of some English and Scottish accents—complete with British sports terms like “touch line” for the sideline—were enough to delight some fans.

There’s room for growth here. With Amazon looking to appeal to viewers in new ways, alternative commentators feels like a chance to personalize the game for more people. It’s not hard to imagine separate streams depending on which team a viewer is a fan of (ESPN has done this), as well as options with comedians or more aggressive sports journalists. It’s not hard to imagine The Ringer having its own stream for Amazon’s games. 

There’s still plenty of upside to what Amazon can do with NFL games even beyond the consumer experience, particularly with advertising and ecommerce sales. That might not be something that fans will find terribly compelling, but companies that spend millions of dollars to advertise during NFL games could soon find themselves with far more insight into the efficacy of their ad efforts—thanks to Amazon. 

That’s still a ways off. For all the upside big tech companies offer to the live sports experience, watching games over the internet tends to remain a decent substitute at best, a frustrating experience for many, and a full-on turn off for others. Even Amazon and all its might isn’t particularly ahead of anyone else. 

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