This is a story about being an NFL fan, but it starts in July with a lot of men on bikes.
July 1, 2023, was the first time I ever Googled how to watch the Tour de France. It was also the first time I ever complained about Peacock’s growing role in the world of sports.
I’d fallen in love with the bike race while watching a Netflix documentary about it in June. Almost overnight, I became someone who couldn’t wait to tell you about Jonas Vingegaard and Wout van Aert and who wanted to watch them race on TV.
The problem, as I discovered on July 1, was that Vingegaard, van Aert and all the other racers wouldn’t actually be available on my TV for much of the Tour de France unless I invested in a Peacock subscription.
“A Peacock subscription!” I shouted in the general direction of my husband. “What does that have to do with sports?”
I was annoyed and offended. The Tour de France overlords had clearly disrespected the sanctity of a cable TV subscription, and I wasn’t about to reward Peacock for the error of their ways.
I focused on the small parts of the bike race that were available on USA Network. I read The Guardian’s live blog. I told myself that this Peacock drama would soon be a distant memory made irrelevant by the return of more popular sports.
I was wrong.
Throughout the late summer and into the fall, Peacock continued to haunt my sports viewing experience as I got more into watching golf.
Streaming apps broadcasting sports
Peacock launched in July 2020 as part of a wave of new streaming apps aiming to capitalize on growing dissatisfaction with cable. It’s owned by NBCUniversal and carries NBC programming, along with a variety of other movies and shows.
Peacock and other streaming apps are bidding for expensive — but also lucrative — sports broadcast rights as a way to attract and retain users in a crowded market. Sports leagues, meanwhile, are entertaining these offers as they try to get the best possible contract and anticipate future viewership habits.
Although Peacock is new, the phenomenon I’m describing really isn’t. Since pay TV first appeared on the scene, leagues have looked to maximize revenue by embracing change. Costs have surged for fans, but so has access to far-away teams.
Just because I understand what sports leagues are up to, doesn’t mean I like it. At the start of each new golf tournament this summer, I’d check the viewing guide on the PGA Tour’s website and then groan at the long stretches of play available only on a streaming app.
But by that point, I had a new weapon to deploy in my streaming war: a Spectrum cable account that I opened when my family moved to a new house in August. I assumed Spectrum would offer a free Peacock membership to new customers, and I was right.
Unfortunately, my newfound access to Peacock did little to ease the challenges that come with being a golf fan amid the rise of streaming apps. Being able to watch Golf Channel and NBC and ESPN and Peacock didn’t stop me from wanting to scream when some tournaments jumped between three of the four channels over a six-hour stretch.
But once again I could take comfort knowing I wasn’t exactly watching America’s favorite sport. Football season will be easier, I thought. I’ll only need Peacock to watch reality TV.
I was right for most of the NFL’s regular season. Until Week 16, games were aired on NBC, CBS, Fox, ESPN or NFL Network — all of which I could access with my cable package — or on Amazon Prime Video, which I got used to using in 2022.
But on Dec. 23, for the first time in NFL history, a regular-season game went behind Peacock’s paywall except in the cities of the competing teams. I was able to watch thanks to my ongoing free trial, but I knew of several NFL fans who were unwilling or unable to pay.
Now, three weeks later, Peacock once again holds exclusive broadcast rights to an NFL game, one of six being played this weekend in the playoffs’ wild-card round.
How to watch Chiefs-Dolphins on Peacock
The high-stakes nature of the contest between the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins explains why the outcry over the NFL-Peacock partnership has reached a deafening pitch. Even a Chiefs player has questioned the broadcast plan.
“Us playing on peacock ONLY is insane I won’t lie,” posted defensive end Charles Omenihu on X.
At this point, the game broadcast is not going to change. In interviews, NFL leaders have spoken about the need to educate fans about how to use Peacock, rather than about having Peacock share the game with NBC, as it often does.
But it’s not too late for us sports fans to consider how far we’re willing to go — and how much we’re willing to pay — to keep up with our favorite teams during this time of transition in the TV landscape.
As it stands, my husband and I, who watch live sports almost daily, pay more than $200 per month to access the various services — Spectrum, Amazon Prime Video, ESPN+, Peacock — that broadcast games.
In the near future, we could end up paying even more if we keep Peacock after the free trial or if my husband decides he likes baseball enough to pay for Apple TV+.
That $200 doesn’t even account for the time that goes into keeping track of where an event will be airing and, in the case of long events like golf or tennis tournaments, whether a day’s action will be split between multiple networks or apps.
In the grand scheme of things, these are small problems, but they’re sapping some of the fun out of the world of sports. In some cases, leagues are actually pricing people out of being able to follow along.
In a recent interview with NFL Network’s Steve Wyche, Mike North, the NFL’s vice president of broadcast programming, acknowledged that football fans have been thrust into an “experiment” in recent years but said that the corresponding backlash hasn’t amounted to much.
“A couple of years ago, when we put the Thursday night package exclusively on Amazon, there were the naysayers out there (who said), ‘I’m not going to get that streaming service. I’m not going to watch ‘Thursday Night Football.’ The NFL’s making a terrible mistake.’ But the ‘Thursday Night’ package on Amazon this year performed really well, comparable to broadcast networks,” North said.
He went on to say that the Peacock partnership is part of the NFL’s preparation for the future.
“Is it a bit of a risk? Yeah. ... But it sure seems like this is where things are going,” North said.
What I take from his comments is a sense that the sports viewing experience is going to get worse before it gets better. In the short term, leagues will continue to experiment with streaming partnerships without letting go of their old ties to cable TV.
I’m not advocating for the NFL and other leagues to stop making changes. Like North said, it’s easy to get used to something like Amazon’s ownership of Thursday Night Football once the transition is made.
But right now, many sports leagues are mid-transition. They’re welcoming streaming apps to the party without giving them a full piece of the pie.
That puts fans like me in a frustrating position, a position in which you need access to Peacock but only for one or two games.
What I’d like is for leagues to make changes faster, so that I don’t have to maintain so many subscriptions at once.