In deals collectively worth more than $100 billion, the NFL has reached 11-year rights extensions with existing TV partners and also taken the league into uncharted digital waters.
Fox, NBC, CBS and ESPN will remain homes for weekly games, but ABC is re-entering the mix and Amazon Prime Video will take over Thursday night games from Fox. The final details had been tipped for weeks, so the official confirmation brought no major surprises and mostly served to underscore the league’s value.
The new agreements will begin with the 2023 season and run through the 2033 season. The league did not comment on valuation but a person familiar with the terms told Deadline the haul exceeds $10 billion per year over the life of the contracts. That has been the eye-opening figure percolating in recent press reports and it represents a jump of more than 75% from the prior set of deals struck nearly a decade ago.
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Asked during a media conference call to confirm the exact tally, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell declined.
Amazon Prime Video gains exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football, which has aired on CBS, NBC and currently on Fox. The streaming outlet first came in as a partner in 2017 and in the recent postseason got its first exclusive playoff game as well as a Saturday game in December. Local TV stations in the two markets of the teams playing on Thursday will continue to simulcast the games.
Even though NFL ratings dipped 7% in 2020 and the Super Bowl in February had the game’s lowest rating since 2007, football still dominates traditional TV. The viewership erosion during Covid-19 was significantly less extensive for the NFL than it was for other major sports. The league also pulled in strong viewers for the NFL Draft on ESPN last spring and has expanded TV coverage of the free-agency signing period, attesting to its year-round appeal.
“These new media deals will provide our fans even greater access to the games they love,” Goodell said in the official announcement. Along with a recent deal with the NFL players union, he added, “these distribution agreements bring an unprecedented era of stability to the league and will permit us to continue to grow and improve our game.”
NBCUniversal, Fox Corp. and ViacomCBS are understood to be paying in the range of $2 billion a year in their new deals. Amazon is in the $1 billion range for 15 Thursday games a season and Disney is increasing its Monday night fees to $2.7 billion a year, up from about $2 billion in the soon-to-expire agreement, according to multiple press reports.
One key detail for the companies shelling out enormous sums for NFL rights is that the league’s deal with the players enables it to add a 17th regular-season game to the schedule.
The Super Bowl rotation will see CBS air the big game in 2023, 2027 and 2031. Fox will get it in 2024, 2028 and 2032. NBC will have it in 2025, 2029 and 2033. ESPN and ABC will simulcast it in 2026 and 2030 in a first for ESPN and a return for ABC for the first time in decades.
While the traditional broadcast element remains in place, streaming is a major strategic emphasis for both the league and its partners, beyond Amazon. The NBCUniversal agreement will see Peacock stream several exclusive games over the course of the deal. Disney’s deal lets it simulcast games across ABC, ESPN and ESPN+. The streaming service will also get one exclusive overseas game per season. ESPN’s current deal, which expires at the end of the coming season, was renewed with an extra “bridge year” extension covering 2022. Paramount+, similarly, will stream live games along with CBS telecasts. Fox’s ad-supported service Tubi will not carry live games but will add NFL programming.
During the media call, Chief Media and Business Officer Brian Rolapp acknowledged that media companies are grappling with “how to balance the future of legacy media with streaming.” He said media companies have made “extraordinary strides” with scaling their streaming efforts, citing Paramount+, ESPN+, Peacock and Fox by name. He said the objective of the deals was to enable the league and its partners to “harness broadcast television” while also investing in the effort to reach cord-cutters who prefer digital. “During the term of this deal, at least half of this country will spend a tremendous amount of time with television, if not more,” he affirmed.
Hans Schroeder, EVP and COO of NFL Media, said Amazon will produce its own streams, a shift from the past when the tech giant redistributed a TV network’s telecast onto the internet. “They’ll bring a new and interesting way, as only Amazon can, of producing NFL football,” he said. During its four seasons, Amazon has experimented with alternate broadcasts on its Twitch livestream platform popular with gamers and also provided different multichannel commentary options.
One remaining package that has drawn interest is NFL Sunday Ticket. DirecTV introduced the every-game buffet as a lure for satellite TV subscribers, which it was for more than two decades. With the satellite TV footprint shrinking and streaming becoming more viable, Disney and Amazon have appeared to be possible new homes for it.
AT&T, which controls DirecTV, recently sold off 30% of the satellite operator to private equity firm TPG as a means of reducing its debt load. In announcing that transaction, the company noted the elimination of up to $2.5 billion in losses from Sunday Ticket, whose rights are due to expire at the end of the 2022 season. There was no mention of the package’s fate in the announcement or on the press call.
The league-owned NFL Network will continue to televise what the announcement described as “a select schedule of exclusive NFL games” each year.
If the climate shifts over the course of the deal, the contracts allow for the NFL to end the deals after seven years.
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