The NFL’s new billion-dollar man


 

After a flawless debut on Sept. 15, Amazon Prime Video’s “Thursday Night Football” stream was a bit choppy for me last week. It was perfectly watchable, but wasn’t quite up to the live sports standard created by broadcast and cable.

Dhruv Prasad started as the NFL’s new senior VP/media strategy and strategic investments in August, making him head of 32 Equity, the league’s $1 billion-plus strategic investment fund, whose holdings include Fanatics and Genius Sports. Reporting to Chief Media and Business Officer Brian Rolapp, he also manages media deal structure and negotiation and scouts new growth opportunities. Prasad’s role was last held by Kevin LaForce. It’s his first role in sports after a career in music rights, tech, live events and private equity.

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Q: What appealed to you about the NFL? “The NFL platform is the largest and most valuable global brand in sports, which gives us the ability to set the strategic direction for the rest of the sports and entertainment industry. In the next decade, we’ll have the opportunity to transform the way our content is created, delivered, and consumed by fans — for me, the opportunity to work on really interesting projects as a part of that transformation was really compelling. The people: I met several of my now-colleagues during the recruiting process — Brian Rolapp, Hans Schroeder, Joe Siclare, Renie Anderson, and Janet Nova among them — and was struck by the incredibly high caliber of the team here.”

Q: What is your vision for the NFL’s role in equity investing? “What I’m most excited about is how we can contribute to companies through introducing them into the NFL ecosystem. Our objective is not to be a control investor; instead we’re going to be a long-term, patient partner for operators, founders, and other investors in situations where the NFL can bring insight, access, or business opportunities that will be an accelerant for growth and value. And for the league, I think the investment platform can give us exposure to innovative and disruptive companies that will help us push our thinking forward – and keep us at the forefront of developments that will advance the NFL mission.”

Q: What unique experience and skills do you bring to this? “I’ve led companies that set out to be disruptive, challenge the status quo, and had a growth mindset. Hopefully, that’s experience I’ll share with the founders and operators that we partner with at 32 Equity, as well as practical experience I can bring to the strategy and business development teams here.”

Dhruv Prasad’s new role with the NFL’s 32 Equity arm is his first in sports

Longtime NFL public relations man Brian McCarthy has been given a new title: chief spokesman.

Reporters might work with one of a half dozen or more NFL communications staffers depending on the subject, but McCarthy is the fulcrum of the league’s media relations. He is the first point of contact as a general rule, handling an extraordinary volume of requests from reporters across the country and managing most major media events.

“Brian’s leadership throughout the league is well known and admired, making this promotion a well-deserved honor,” said Jeff Miller, the NFL’s exec VP/communications, public affairs and policy and health & safety initiatives.

McCarthy, who continues to also hold the title VP/communications, has been with the league since 1994. He declined to comment.



Five NFL VPs were recently promoted to senior VP:

  • Jon Barker is now senior VP/global event operation and production. He was previously VP and head of live event operation and production.
  • Dolores DiBell is now senior VP/legal affairs. She was previously VP/legal affairs.
  • Matt Swensson is now senior VP/product and technology. He was previously VP and head of product and technology.
  • Christine Vicari is now senior VP/labor finance. She was previously VP/labor finance.



Commanders owner Daniel Snyder has no allies left in the NFL ownership club, but that doesn’t mean there’s a movement afoot to kick him out or compel a sale. Four different insiders, all familiar with high-level league politics, say little has changed in recent months. Simply put, there’s still no “smoking gun” that would constitute grounds for aggressive action.

Suns owner Robert Sarver’s pending sale after the NBA’s investigation has emboldened Snyder critics to ask why the same thing shouldn’t happen here. But there are differences. The NBA found extensive evidence of problematic behavior by Sarver personally, not just general workplace culture problems. Other similar cases where owners were convinced to sell all carried a racial component the Snyder allegations have lacked. Also, sponsors and players have been mostly quiet, unlike in the Suns case.

In short, for all of Snyder’s problems, the current public record falls short of the precedent for a ban or a coerced sale. For those who might hope he gives up willingly, consider: He has no non-family limited partners who might claim he has a fiduciary obligation to do so. Also, unlike most major sports owners who have been pressured to sell, Snyder is still a relatively young man and intends to leave the team to his son, meaning the cost of giving up is higher.

This would all change on a dime if the congressional investigation or the NFL investigation by former SEC Chair Mary Jo White finds and corroborate evidence of serious misconduct by Snyder personally. The energy is there for action, just not the facts. Are owners annoyed by Snyder’s poor stewardship of the Washington market, and are they convinced they’d make more money with a fresh face? Yes. But you could say that about other owners too and they aren’t going anywhere.



So far Amazon Prime Video is drawing an audience that matches the best of what NFL Network was ever able to get for games, notes my colleague Austin Karp, and the Amazon audiences are well above an average of NFL Net-only games.

Amazon’s Chiefs-Chargers in Week 2 drew 13 million viewers, while Steelers-Browns in Week 3 drew 11.03 million. NFL Net exclusively carried the start to the 2021 season, giving Amazon some big year-over-year comps (something that will likely continue with comps for tonight’s Dolphins-Bengals matchup).

Cable TV was firmly entrenched in American TV viewing habits when NFL Network exclusively had the “TNF” package from 2006-2013 — a level of adoption that streaming is still looking to achieve for live sports. But the size of Amazon’s “TNF” audiences thus far reflect the behemoth that Amazon is in today’s landscape, and why the NFL was ready to entrust a package to a streamer in this case.

And what does the fact that Amazon’s audience say about NFL Network’s future? The cable net continues to air games — such as Sunday’s Vikings-Saints from London — and remains part of the broader talks on a sale of NFL Media assets.

The best NFL Network has drawn to date for any game was a Christmas Day matchup of the Ravens and Steelers in 2016 (14.8 million). No. 2 was also on Christmas in 2014, with Colts-Cardinals drawing 12.6 million. Amazon has already topped that No. 2 spot among NFL Net-only games, but will it beat the all-time high? Two potential candidates are Ravens-Bucs in Week 8, or the season “TNF” finale, Cowboys-Titans, in Week 17.

Most-watched games all-time on NFL Network
DATE MATCHUP VIEWERS (000)
Sunday, December 25, 2016 Ravens-Steelers 14,772
Saturday, December 25, 2021 Colts-Cardinals 12,624
Thursday, November 24, 2011 49ers-Ravens 10,681
Saturday, December 19, 2009 Cowboys-Saints 10,497
Thursday, November 29, 2007 Packers-Cowboys 10,054
  • The NFL will shutter the traditional tackle version of the Pro Bowl starting this year, replacing the main game with a flag football competition and expanding programming into a festival week called “The Pro Bowl Games” with help from Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions.
  • This week’s Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast is all about streaming, including how the NFL put some of its most popular teams exclusively on Amazon. The duo also looks at the NFL wanting to sell its Sunday Ticket service exclusively to a streamer and Peyton and Eli Manning’s role in the new Pro Bowl weekend.
  • Flag football was among only a few major-league-related team sports to show a participation increase among its most active players, notes SBJ’s David Broughton, who looked at new numbers from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association and Sports Marketing Surveys USA.
  • A botched call by replacement refs on a ‘Monday Night Football’ game 10 years ago provided the nudge needed for the NFL and its regular refs to agree on a new contract. SBJ’s Liz Mullen took a look back at The Fail Mary call from the end of that Packers-Seahawks game.





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The NFL’s new billion-dollar man

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