A general, aerial view of Yankee Stadium as the Yankees...

A general, aerial view of Yankee Stadium as the Yankees prepare for 2021 Opening Day. Credit: New York Yankees

The first truly monumental event in Amazon’s foray into live sports still is 2 ½ years distant, when it begins carrying Thursday night NFL games exclusively, other than in the markets of the teams involved.

But in the meantime, the tech giant continues taking steps in that direction, with a significant one coming on Sunday when Amazon Prime Video will carry the first of 21 Yankees games this season, when they host the Rays. There is no additional cost beyond the regular Prime membership fee of $119 per year.

The key is that the 21 games also will be on WPIX-TV and were not scheduled as part of the YES Network’s slate. That would have represented a huge shift – and presumably violated YES’ contracts with its distributors.

Instead, Amazon merely will offer an alternative way of watching games that already are on free television, at least for people who are within YES’ New York-area footprint.

"Broadly, we’re just expanding access," said Charlie Neiman, head of sports partnerships for Prime Video.

He said potential users include "folks on the go" who are not near a television, people who do not even own a traditional TV and fans who are interested in Amazon’s added content.

That includes a 15-minute pregame show that will feature YES Network talent, plus additional stats and information during the games. The game itself will be a simulcast of the regular YES production that is seen on Channel 11.

The first Amazon-exclusive pregame will feature YES’ Bob Lorenz, Jack Curry and John Flaherty.

The fact that Amazon is a part-owner of the YES Network is not a coincidence in this arrangement.

"I think we’re constantly thinking about how we can integrate and bring more Yankees content to fans," Neiman said, "and obviously the YES Network has been doing that a long time."

But what made it work contractually was an agreement by owners late in 2019 to return digital streaming rights to teams, which allowed the Yankees to place its non-cable games on Amazon.

The deal was supposed to kick in last year, but Neiman said given the disruption – and shortened season – caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was deemed better to wait until 2021 and start fresh.

Neiman said the goal is to "continue to add value for Prime members and to the Prime membership, and we think video and live sports is a great way to do it."

Games that are televised by YES can be streamed on the new YES App, but that requires being authenticated as a subscriber with access to YES through a pay television distributor. The games on Amazon require only a Prime membership.

For now, the Yankees are the only MLB team with which Amazon has this sort of arrangement.

Where is this headed? In the short term, Amazon is a relatively minor live sports player compared with traditional television outlets. The "Thursday Night Football" contract will signal bigger changes ahead.

"There is a transition happening; that doesn’t mean it’s happening overnight," said Neiman, who added the idea is not simply to replicate live sports on traditional TV but to offer a broader, more immersive experience.

As for the NFL deal, he said, "I do think it will be a transformational moment. I think having a property with that broad appeal be exclusively on Amazon Prime Video is going to drive a lot of eyeballs and awareness in a way that hasn’t happened with any other digital provider to date."

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