Inside the Huddle: Key takeaways from the backstory of NFL+

Kirstin White | Mon May 06 2024 | Client success stories

The National Football League (NFL) is a juggernaut in the world of sports, boasting an unparalleled level of popularity and fan engagement. As the world of media consumption evolves, the league has recognized the need to adapt and embrace the world of streaming.

In a recent panel discussion titled "Inside the Huddle," experts from the NFL, Michael Orloff (Director of D2C Strategy) and Ian Campbell (Senior Director of D2C Product), spoke with Gilles Domartini (CEO of Cleeng) and industry analyst Ben Keen about the league's direct-to-consumer (D2C) streaming service, NFL+. 

Check out the panel recording below, or scroll down for the highlights.




Table of Contents:

- Moving from Game Pass to NFL+

- Delivering a Premium User Experience

- Managing Churn and Subscriber Retention

- FAST Channels and Brand Integration

- Next steps for NFL+



Moving from Game Pass to NFL+

Launching a successful D2C streaming service is no simple task, especially for a sports league as prominent as the NFL. The panel delved into the challenges and strategies involved in creating NFL+, which replaced the league's previous Game Pass offering.

Expanding the football diet

One of the key objectives was to expand the "football diet" for fans, providing exclusive content and experiences that traditional broadcasting partners could not offer.

As Ian Campbell explained, "Being a very focused direct-to-consumer service allows us to essentially grow your football diet farther than a partner might do, on a day-to-day basis."

This included offering live press conferences, behind-the-scenes access, and unique programming like the popular "RedZone" channel, which seamlessly switches between live games to showcase the most exciting moments.

Michael Orloff described RedZone as "one of the only ways outside of Sunday ticket that you're able to see the live version of out-of-market games."

Tailoring the product messaging

The panelists emphasized the importance of understanding fan behavior and tailoring the product and messaging accordingly. For instance, the mobile live game rights were initially offered for free but were later moved behind a paywall to create a more premium experience for subscribers.

"We essentially continued on in a behavior that had existed over ten years," Orloff explained. “As we launched new things and crossed platforms, we're learning that creating a new behavior is sometimes a bit more challenging. You have to be very intentional and smart in terms of how you're trying to communicate and build those new behaviors. And it's a way that Cleeng has actually been very helpful … telling the right message to the right person at the right time is pretty critical to drive those new behaviors.

Launching within 3 months

Another key challenge of the transition was the short timeframe for deployment. Cleeng was awarded the deal in April, and the service had to be launched by July. Thanks to Cleeng's existing tools, APIs, and SDKs, we were able to meet the tight deadline and deliver a platform capable of handling the scale of the NFL.

Cleeng's CEO, Gilles Domartini, highlighted the company's ability to deploy scalable platforms quickly, citing its experience with events like Mayweather-Pacquiao and Mayweather-McGregor fights. "We have a unique ability to deploy such a platform in a very short time frame. And this was a key requirement for the NFL team," Domartini said.

NFL+ Streaming Platform and Apps

Delivering a Premium User Experience

In rolling out its direct-to-consumer streaming service NFL+, the NFL placed a strong emphasis on delivering a premium user experience befitting one of the world's top sports brands. This commitment was reflected in the league's partnership with Cleeng, which allowed the NFL to streamline the complexities of managing offers across multiple platforms and payment methods while ensuring a smooth billing transition for subscribers.

Ian Campbell, Senior Director of D2C Product at the NFL, highlighted the importance of robust customer service, praising Cleeng's dedicated Hi5 customer care suite, “Something that was very distinctive from Cleeng was their Hi5 customer service team, which we've come to rely on for more than just D2C.” 

By partnering with a platform like Cleeng, the NFL was able to navigate the intricate technical and operational aspects of managing its streaming service, enabling the league to focus on curating a premium experience worthy of its brand and its passionate fan base.

Explore the Hi5 customer care solution


Managing Churn and Subscriber Retention  

One of the biggest challenges in the streaming industry, particularly for sports content, is managing subscriber churn. The panelists discussed various strategies to address this issue, including leveraging data analytics tools like Cleeng's ChurnIQ to understand subscriber behavior and implement targeted retention campaigns.

Understanding subscriber behavior

For the NFL, a crucial aspect of combating subscriber churn was gaining deeper insights into their customer base and tailoring their retention strategies accordingly. By leveraging Cleeng's ChurnIQ solution, the league aimed to better understand subscriber behaviors and segment users for more targeted campaigns. As Ian highlighted, ChurnIQ offered "very clever ways to start to understand behaviors and segment users in different ways.

Through ChurnIQ's advanced analytics capabilities, the NFL could analyze subscriber data, identify churn risks, and segment subscribers based on their behaviors and preferences. This enabled the league to deliver personalized offers, promotions, and messaging that resonated with different subscriber segments, improving retention rates and maximizing the value of their customer relationships. 

Could ChurnIQ help my churn rates?


Overcoming seasonal churn

The NFL also faces the unique challenge of a seasonal product, with subscribers potentially churning during the off-season. To combat this, the league combines a range of offer types to give customers the flexibility of choice, including Seasonal Subscriptions.

Through Seasonal Subscriptions, the NFL is able to build their content offering around the dates of the football season, as opposed to the standard annual SKU. This unique offer set up means that customers no longer need to re-register in the new season as their subscription will automatically renew.

Promotional prices - seasonal subscriptions

Learn more about Seasonal Subscriptions


Whilst acknowledging that a long term subscription is most desirable for the league, Orloff also highlighted the importance of flexibility and personalization, “finding the right place, the right time, the right offer for that person, that's where we work very closely with Cleeng and that team in terms of trying to evolve that strategy.”


FAST channels and brand integration

As the NFL looks ahead, opportunities for further innovation lie in areas such as brand integration, hybrid monetization models, and leveraging the streaming service as a gateway to broader fan experiences. "There's a lot of interesting opportunities that we can leverage some of that integration work to start to enable in a bit of a longer term roadmap," said Orloff.

Speaking on the league’s FAST channel specifically, Orloff explained how it serves as a way to continue engaging and monetizing churned subscribers:

"FAST channel is an awesome place for us to...continue the monetization of the subscriber, but also a way to continue the engagement of the subscriber, keep them in the ecosystem. And then when they're ready to come back to that more premium experience, we already have them there and are easily able to deliver a message."


Next steps for NFL+

As the streaming landscape continues to evolve, the NFL's approach to its D2C offering, NFL+, serves as a valuable case study for other sports rights owners and content providers. By focusing on expanding the fan experience, scaling through strategic partnerships, and implementing data-driven subscriber retention strategies, the league has successfully navigated the challenges of launching and growing a direct-to-consumer streaming service.

The panel's insights underscore the importance of agility, continuous learning, and collaboration across different departments and partners. Ultimately, the success of NFL+ hinges on delivering exceptional value to fans, fostering engagement, and adapting to changing consumer expectations in the rapidly evolving world of sports streaming. As Gilles Domartini advised, "Move fast, learn fast, and work with vendors that make it easy for you."


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