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Q&A: Sameer Pabari, managing director of international media, the NFL

NFL Game Pass is the fastest-growing single-sport OTT service in the world, targeting both casual and avid fans. Here, Sameer Pabari, managing director of international media, the NFL, explains how Game Pass fits into the league’s global media-rights strategy.

Is Game Pass hitting a different kind of NFL consumer/fan to linear coverage?

We have found that Game Pass caters to a broad range of our fan base and really has an appeal for every kind of NFL fan. While the product offers something for all fans, it is was initially designed for the avid fan.

There are some fans who choose to consume NFL content and specifically our games over digital platforms and we see this primarily from a younger demographic.

At the same time, Game Pass also offers something extra to fans who primarily watch games over linear TV, such as real-time data, condensed games for catch up or our award-winning documentaries

Game Pass is present in 181 markets in the world. Is the intention for it to eventually be rolled out in every market? If so, what is the horizon?

The aim of Game Pass is to serve NFL fans in all markets. At this point the product is just about as widely distributed internationally as one can expect given all factors. While the product offers something for all fans, it is was initially designed for the avid fan.

So, when we look toward future growth, we don’t necessarily think of new territories as much as we think about getting more casual fans using the product and to meet a broader range of fan needs. A lot of our product development focus will be in this area.

How do you see the roll-out of 5G impacting Game Pass going forward?

Like many who work directly with products and services in the technology space, we are looking forward to the roll-out of 5G. There is no question it will improve the user experience and at the same time allow us to explore new technologies and capabilities – whether they be 4K, AR, or VR – around the product.

Our research suggests your biggest market for Game Pass outside North America is the UK by some considerable distance. What do you put this down to?

As one would expect, the biggest markets for Game Pass are where the NFL has the most fans. Outside of Canada and Mexico, the UK is naturally a big market for Game Pass, amongst others, due to the NFL’s annual presence there with the International Series games.

What are you/OverTier doing to close the gap in other markets, and to help increase numbers generally around the world?

We don’t think of it as ‘closing the gap.’ We continue to look to aggressively grow and build the NFL’s fan base, and in turn the Game Pass subscriber base, around the world in all markets. You’ll see us innovate relentlessly to improve our product, with a particular focus on casual fans. We know that as our product improves and evolves it will be a great way to increase our fans’ passion for the game.

You have reported growth figures for number of hours streamed, average minutes per user etc. Clearly, these numbers will increase organically as subscription numbers increase. But is anything else driving that growth?

Growth has not only increased organically but average consumption per subscriber has also increased. We have been able to increase consumption in a number of ways, including features such as Watch with RedZone, which puts RedZone next to a live game. We have also emphasised watching games on the big screen – through connected TVs. Game Pass users watching through connected TVs on larger screens tend to watch for longer periods of time. We are constantly talking to new companies who can help us figure out ways to drive engagement, whether that’s through video or in other ways.

Why are you not integrating betting data into the service? Has there been any discussion about a change in this strategy, particularly following the change in regulation in the US?

We as a league have been fairly cautious and conservative as we continue to evolve our approach to sports betting data across all aspects of our business – which obviously includes the Game Pass product. The reason for this measured approach is our steadfast priority of protecting the integrity of the game. Looking forward with Game Pass, we will continue to monitor the marketplace and explore new opportunities when the appropriate time arises.

US TV audience ratings for the NFL increased in 2018 and 2019 after drops in 2016 and 2017. The growth coincides with the continued roll-out of Game Pass. This would appear to suggest that Game Pass does not colonise linear TV audiences. But is there any evidence that it actually helps drive linear audiences? 

We have consistently found, whether in the United States or abroad, that the more NFL content that is available to fans, the more consumption we see. A perfect example of this as it pertains to Game Pass is in Germany. Germany has three outlets to watch NFL games – ProSieben (our free-to-air broadcast partner) DAZN (our paid-TV partner) and Game Pass. Over the past year, all three of those platforms saw growth in terms of consumption of NFL football.

Your next round of domestic media rights deal begins in 2021. Is there any risk that a really successful expansion of Game Pass in the US could undermine rights values?

NFL football has consistently proven to be the most valuable content available in the entertainment industry and we feel confident the value of those rights will only continue to grow.

Why did you replace Perform/DAZN with OverTier as a distributor for Game Pass in selected territories after the 2017 season? The original Perform deal was reported as running to 2021.

Perform wasn’t replaced. In fact, they operate our NFL Game Pass product in Canada and continue to be a fantastic media partner globally. We mutually agreed to make the shift in 2019 as they were sunsetting their B2B business (Perform) and shifting focus to their Direct to Consumer business (DAZN), which again, we currently work with and are looking for additional ways of working together.

This interview is part of SportBusiness’ coverage of NFL Game Pass. Return to the main feature here, or read the other Q&As below:

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