Netflix to air NFL Christmas Day games starting this season

May 16, 2024, 12:16 PM

Seahawks Chiefs Patrick Mahomes Netflix NFL...

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes throws a pass against the Seahawks on Dec. 24, 2022. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

The NFL’s Mike North wasn’t considering Christmas Day as part of the 2024 regular-season schedule when preliminary planning began.

Ratings and interest from current and prospective broadcast partners changed that.

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Not only is the NFL playing on a Wednesday for only the third time since 1950, it brought on Netflix to carry the games. Netflix will stream two Christmas Day games globally as part of a three-year deal announced Wednesday as the league unveiled the regular-season schedule.

“Last year at this time we weren’t really thinking about Christmas Wednesdays. But when you saw the viewership numbers that you saw for Christmas for the tripleheader last year and the tripleheader the year before, the fans have spoken. They want the games there and our broadcast partners want the games there,” North, the NFL’s vice president of broadcast planning, said during a teleconference Thursday.

Netflix will carry two NFL games this year and at least one game in 2025 and ‘26. Defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City will face Pittsburgh in the first game at 1 p.m. ET, followed by Baltimore at Houston at 4:30 p.m.

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The NFL has played a total of 30 games on Christmas Day since 1971, including three last year. It has stayed away from midweek games, though, until this year’s Christmas slate. Last year’s three games averaged 28.68 million viewers. The early afternoon contest between the Las Vegas Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs averaged 29.48 million.

This marks the fifth straight year of NFL games on Christmas, and they’re likely to remain on the schedule for a while. With Christmas falling on a Thursday in 2025, Netflix and Amazon will have one game apiece. There are expected to be at least two Christmas games in 2026, which is a Friday.

With the league continuing to make international inroads, including five games abroad this season, the prospect of partnering the NFL with Netflix was too good to pass up. Netflix has 270 million paid memberships in over 190 countries.

“It is an opportunity for us to expose our game to more people around the world, and that excites us a great deal,” said Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy.

Hans Schroeder, the executive vice president of NFL Media, said team owners meeting in March were presented with a plan where teams playing on Christmas Day would have their Week 16 games on Saturday, which would give them the same amount of prep time they normally have in a short week when playing on Sunday and Thursday.

The last time the league played on a Wednesday was Dec. 2, 2020, when the Baltimore Ravens’ game at the Pittsburgh Steelers was pushed back six days due to COVID-19. The Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants opened the 2012 season on a Wednesday due to President Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention taking place on a Thursday.

The latest December regular-season game before this year was Dec. 9, 1925, when the Providence Steam Roller hosted the Chicago Bears.

Netflix began airing NFL programming last year with the series “Quarterback.” A series on wide receivers will premiere this year. It also live streamed the Tom Brady roast on May 5 and will have a 10-part documentary series later this year on Jerry Jones and his ownership of the Dallas Cowboys.

Netflix’s forays into carrying live sports began last year, but they were exhibition events in golf and tennis. It is also scheduled to air the July 20 bout between Mike Tyson and Jake Paul.

Who Netflix will use to announce and produce the holiday doubleheader remains to be determined.

CBS Sports CEO and President David Berson welcomed Netflix even if it meant his network doesn’t have an NFL game on Christmas Day.

“Their involvement in no way impacts our schedule and our deal. We have 29 windows, 10 doubleheaders and Thanksgiving. We have plenty of opportunities to showcase (games) and drive massive viewership,” Berson said. “We can’t possibly have all of the AFC games — we know some will go to NBC, ESPN, Amazon and in this case Netflix.”

Even though there have been some criticisms about more games moving to streaming, NFL fans have mostly stayed tuned in.

According to Nielsen figures, last season’s 16-game “Thursday Night Football” package on Prime Video averaged 11.86 million viewers, a 24% increase over 2023. Two games had more than 15 million viewers, including 15.3 million for the Nov. 30 matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys.

The Jan. 13 AFC wild-card playoff game between the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs on Peacock averaged 23 million, a record for the most-watched event on a streaming service. It also surpassed the audiences for the Saturday night wild-card playoff games that were shown on NBC in two of the past three years.

In keeping with the longstanding NFL policy on games that are carried on cable or streaming platforms, Netflix’s Christmas games will air on broadcast TV in the competing teams’ home cities and will be available on mobile devices in the U.S. with NFL+.

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Netflix to air NFL Christmas Day games starting this season