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The first Amazon-streamed NFL game will be the Chicago Bears vs. the Green Bay Packers (GeekWire Illustration / Photo by Brian Giesen Via Flickr Creative Commons)

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Amazon will live stream the first of its package of 11 NFL games tonight, marking the beginning of a $50 million experiment for the retail giant.

Amazon’s NFL slate kicks off with the first game at 5:25 p.m. Pacific tonight, a division rivalry matchup between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, and concludes with a Christmas Day tilt between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans.

Amazon’s Thursday Night Football Schedule.

The games will be available exclusively to Amazon Prime members, who pay $99 annually, or $10.99 monthly, to belong to the company’s fast-shipping program and its host of benefits. In April, Amazon began offering a monthly $8.99 standalone Prime Video subscription. Prime members can watch the game in a variety of ways, including Fire TV, Amazon’s homepage, the Amazon Video app, Amazon Fire tablets and the Alexa-powered Echo Show device.

Amazon’s stream will mirror the TV broadcast, either on CBS or NBC each week, in some ways, but the company is putting its own touches on the games. It starts with a kickoff show hosted by Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone and former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber that ties in with Amazon’s online shopping network, allowing customers to buy NFL-themed gear.

The hype is ramping up for tonight’s game, and a commercial is out promoting Amazon’s involvement.

Amazon is looking to reach a global audience for these games, and it starts with the announce teams. In addition to the CBS/NBC commentary, Amazon will include announce teams speaking Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese, as well as a U.K. English language stream with a focus on educating newcomers to the game.

Amazon is leveraging other parts of its business to spread the word about its NFL broadcasts. Throughout the season Amazon plans to ship more than 10 million orders in the United States and Mexico in football-themed boxes.

Thursday Night Football-themed Amazon boxes. (Amazon Photo)

Amazon is of course, not the first tech company to broadcast NFL action. Twitter paid a reported $10 million to broadcast 10 games last season.

Twitter reported approximately 2 million viewers for the initial game last year — a matchup between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets — and that increased to 2.2 million the following week. Average viewership for the eight remaining games ranged from 2.6 million to 3.1 million, which Twitter reached for the Week 14 game between Oakland and Kansas City. For context, NBC said there were 17.4 million TV-only viewers for that Oakland vs. Kansas City game.

While Twitter broadcast its games for free, opening it up to virtually its entire user base, Amazon is betting that its following on Prime is more dedicated and likely to tune into a game. Amazon expanded its video service to more than 200 countries this past December, making it a more attractive options for leagues looking for a global audience.

Amazon’s dalliance into sports streaming represents yet another benefit for Prime members and gives customers another reason to sign up for the program, which offers free two-day shipping, cloud storage, and many more benefits. An analysis in July from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimated the number of Prime members in the U.S. at 85 million, making up well over 50 percent of the company’s U.S. customer base.

Thursday Night Football on Amazon. (Screenshot Via Amazon)

Amazon reportedly paid five times the amount Twitter did for Thursday Night Football last season, but that isn’t as eye-popping when you look at what Amazon is spending for other content rights. For example, it reportedly paid $250 million to acquire the popular Top Gear show for its Prime audience.

Keep in mind, if Thursday Night Football is a strong enough draw, 500,000 new annual Prime members would virtually pay for the NFL contract.

Thursday Night Football is not Amazon’s first foray into sports, or even the NFL. Amazon is in the middle of season two of All or Nothingan original show that debuted last year with eight one-hour long episodes featuring the Arizona Cardinals during its run to the NFC Championship game in 2015 and is following the Rams re-location from St. Louis to Los Angeles this year.

This month, Amazon became an official streaming partner for the Association of Tennis Professionals World Tour. Amazon has worldwide streaming rights of the Next Gen ATP Finals, a tournament for the best youth players in the world through the end of 2018.

An NFL game has yet to be played on Amazon, but the concept already has more than 200 customer reviews. The audience appears to be split and strong in their beliefs. Of the reviews, 54 percent are five stars, while 38 percent of reviewers gave only one star, together making up 92 percent of the vote.

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