NFL Films to Dramatically Expand Content Production; How Could Streaming Play a Part in Studio’s Future?
NFL Films has long been synonymous with the highest quality of sports documentary filmmaking. NFL Films’ brand has a unique visual style, which combines top-notch packaging of game highlights with booming music and eloquent voiceover narration.
While it exists separately from NFL Media, NFL Films is involved in a wide variety of programming, including the HBO series “Hard Knocks,” the long-running “Inside the NFL” series that’s now on Paramount+, and many shows on NFL Network, including the “A Football Life” documentary series. The NFL has also teamed up with athletes like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, having a hand in the production of Brady’s “Man in the Arena” and Manning’s “Peyton’s Places,” both of which streamed on ESPN+.
Now, there’s word that NFL Films has even bigger entertainment ambitions. Business Insider reported on Tuesday that NFL Films is now “in talks with Hollywood partners about expanding its TV and film efforts.” With sports documentaries undergoing a renaissance and the likes of Lebron James setting up production companies, NFL Films reportedly wants to further cement its place as the sport’s premier storytelling destination while also expanding into genres that have never been a part of the NFL landscape before.
“We have a sport that is most akin to Hollywood,” NFL Films senior director Ross Ketover told Insider. “We can help find those stories and help them get made, whether it’s streaming series, television or feature movies.”
The idea is that since the NFL is the most popular — and profitable — league in the United States, NFL Films wants to draw on the century’s worth of stories and stars to create new films, TV series, unscripted programming, and more. Plans include more partnerships with athletes, content centered on other sports, and possibly even nontraditional programming like cooking shows.
The question is, what could that all look like, especially from a streaming standpoint?
Insider said that NFL Films does not currently have any deals with any studios for their future output, but once they do, it could go any number of directions.
The NFL is known for liking to spread out its media rights to as many different partners as possible, with games airing on CBS, NBC, FOX, ESPN, ABC, ESPN+, and Prime Video, not to mention “Hard Knocks” on HBO and HBO Max. With those relationships already well established, as NFL Films begins to branch out into films, scripted series, and reality programming, it would make sense that those outlets — along with NFL Network — would be natural destinations. Additionally, Apple is trying to finalize a deal to be the home of the league’s out-of-market NFL Sunday Ticket package, which would give NFL Films another built-in partner for content distribution.
The league is also reportedly in talks to sell off a stake in NFL Media, possibly in conjunction with the bidding for the rights to Sunday Ticket. While NFL Films is not part of NFL Media, if a company like Apple were to land both the Sunday Ticket rights for Apple TV+ and a stake in NFL Media, that would further create a natural place for NFL Films content to go.
The popularity of alternate broadcasts has grown tremendously since Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning began their “ManningCast” with ESPN in 2021. With so many different rights holders airing NFL games, NFL Films would be a perfect partner to assist with the production of alternate broadcasts on corresponding streaming services. Disney and Amazon already regularly produce alternate broadcasts, but Paramount+ could host a streaming alternate telecast of each Sunday’s AFC games with a cast of NFL greats. If contracts allow, Tubi could do the same with FOX’s NFC games; although that would likely need to be a slightly different product since Tubi is a free platform, while Paramount+ is a subscription service.
NFL Media already hosts something akin to an alternate broadcast with NFL RedZone which provides a comprehensive look at all of the league’s action in real time. If Apple TV, Prime Video, ESPN+, or YouTube land Sunday Ticket, they could take the whip-around idea to new heights with a panel of fun and insightful hosts and guests breaking down all of the day’s action as it happens.
Beyond new ways to package games, streaming provides incredible opportunities for NFL Films to produce and deliver the high-quality documentaries that it is known for. Even beyond “Hard Knocks,” HBO has long been a home for exceptional sports documentaries and could become a hub for additional NFL titles.
One of the genres that the Insider article mentions NFL Films is exploring was cooking shows. As HBO Max is set to merge with corporate sibling streamer discovery+ next year, this new platform would provide an ideal opportunity to bring multi-quadrant programming to a service that will have two rather disparate slates of content offerings.
NFL Films is also said to be looking to build its own equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not necessarily in terms of superhero fare, but in terms of ubiquity and varieties. Of course, with the league’s longstanding partnership with ESPN and ABC, Disney+ would be an ideal avenue for kid-focused titles and if NFL Films actually did want to position players like Patrick Mahomes as the next generation of Avengers, there would be no better home to do so.
While it’s not clear what direction NFL Films plans will go with its new content initiatives, there is a good chance that you’ll be seeing a lot more of the studio’s content, and most likely across even more streaming services.