You’ll never catch me calling a preseason football game anything close to important, but Thursday night’s matchup between the 49ers and Texans does stand as a milestone of sorts.
Whether it’s a good kind of milestone depends upon how interested you are in the NFL and how willing you are to pay for access to a single game each week.
The game was the debut broadcast of the new Thursday night package, which moves over to the streaming service Amazon Prime after four years on Fox. The Amazon/NFL partnership is the league’s first all-digital-rights agreement, meaning that fans that are accustomed to watching NFL games on cable or network television, or even other streaming services, have some adjusting to do.
The Amazon broadcasts will be televised for free on Prime in the markets of the competing teams on a given Thursday, but out-of-market viewers must be Amazon Prime subscribers. In this market, Prime games will be simulcast on Ch. 25.
Got all that? I know: With sports leagues reaching lucrative agreements with more broadcast rights partners, it becomes harder for some fans to remember what to find where. How many of you remembered that the Red Sox were on Apple TV+ Friday night? (Whether any of you wanted to remember is another question.)
The Prime broadcast was as impressive as one during a preseason game gets. Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit, paired in the booth after starring elsewhere individually, seemed at ease with each other. The graphics and picture were sharp. The score bug was unobtrusive. We now have confirmation that the broadcast will be of the highest quality when it makes its regular-season debut with Chargers-Chiefs in Week 2 on Sept. 15.
For those of us who grew up in the ‘80s and early ‘90s sometimes uncertain whether blackout restrictions would allow for the Patriots game to air locally in a given week, the ability to watch any game you want is somewhat remarkable.
But the games are too scattered now — NFL broadcasts will air on Fox, NBC, CBS, ESPN, NFL Network, and Amazon Prime this season, with some streaming simulcasts on ESPN+, Paramount+ (CBS), and Peacock (NBC). It’s a lot to navigate.
And did we mention that just about every option is pricey? The NFL is annoyingly adept at monetizing our fandom.
In a sad kind of coincidence, Amazon Prime premiered its NFL coverage a day after Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson died at age 87. Dawson built his legend as the quarterback of the Chiefs, leading them to victory in Super Bowl IV.
But for football fans of a certain age, Dawson was the host, along with former Patriots and Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti, of HBO’s “Inside the NFL” from 1980-2001. (Dawson actually started in ‘79, with Buoniconti joining him a year later; years beyond that, Cris Collinsworth was added as a third host.)
Back in the ‘80s, there were very few places to get thorough NFL highlights from a full week of action. Howard Cosell did roughly seven minutes of halftime highlights on “Monday Night Football” each week, and it was must-watch, but it did not have the same depth and detail as the hourlong “Inside the NFL,” which featured NFL Films footage and production.
It must be noted that to get “Inside the NFL,” you had to be an HBO subscriber. Even in simpler times, it was about the money. The access to what we want as fans is infinitely better now. But it doesn’t always feel better, not when you’re trying to figure out where the next game is airing and calculating whether one more subscription is worth it.
A good cause
This year’s WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon helped raise more than $3.5 million for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. In the 20 years since WEEI and NESN teamed up for the event, more than $65 million has been raised.
What an incredibly admirable achievement. The telethon aired as a 36-hour live broadcast during WEEI’s weekday programming Tuesday and Wednesday.
“To hear the doctors talk about the progress that is being made, the clinical trials that are ongoing, and to hear from patients about how Dana-Farber saved their life will be forever in our hearts and minds,” said Mike Thomas, senior vice president and market manager, Audacy Boston, the parent company of WEEI. “There really is nothing like the two days of this fund-raiser.”
Listen to this
Three quick podcast recommendations:
⋅ Former WEEI personality Brian Barrett’s new “Off The Pike” on Boston sports on The Ringer (full disclosure: I popped on as a guest on the inaugural episode to talk about Dennis Eckersley’s pending retirement from the broadcast booth and where NESN goes from here);
⋅ ESPN’s “The Longest Game,” on the 33-inning marathon between the Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings in 1981;
⋅ “Wesley,” Tom Rinaldi’s serial on Fox Sports Audio on the 1978 murder of Angels outfielder Lyman Bostock. As a companion piece to the Bostock pod, look up Jeff Pearlman’s remarkably well-reported 2008 story on Bostock, titled “Fifth and Jackson,” that he wrote for ESPN.