NFL nearly doubles fees for TV rights; Amazon to get exclusive games for streaming
The NFL has agreed to a new media rights deal that will keep the vast majority of its games on the broadcast TV networks and ESPN through 2033 but that will also give Amazon exclusive rights to stream Thursday night contests.
The NFL did not disclose the financial terms of the deal. The rights holders will see their payment nearly double to around $9 billion a year, according to a person involved in the negotiations who was not authorized to comment publicly. Amazon will pay around $1.5 billion a year.
CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN currently collectively pay $5 billion annually to carry the games. ESPN’s deal takes effect with the 2022 season, while the other agreements take effect in 2023.
The new deal includes two Super Bowl telecasts for ESPN parent Walt Disney Co.’s broadcast network ABC and one international game per season that will be exclusively available on Disney’s streaming service ESPN+.
The substantial increase in rights fees reflects the ability of the NFL to still attract large audiences on traditional television at a time when viewers have shifted to watching scripted sitcoms and dramas on streaming platforms. NFL games are also the most potent bargaining chip for media companies when negotiating with cable and satellite providers over fees paid to carry their channels.
But the latest agreement also recognizes the new reality of the TV landscape as the parent firms of three of the traditional media partners — ViacomCBS, NBCUniversal and Disney — are all in the streaming business with their own subscription services. The companies will have the rights to stream those games on their services, while Amazon gets a bigger piece of the NFL pie.
The deal for Thursday night games is the most significant exclusive commitment the NFL has made to a streaming service. Amazon was the sole carrier of a late season Saturday NFL game between the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers in 2020, and Verizon’s Yahoo streamed a 2017 contest from London.
CBS will retain its Sunday afternoon games and will get the Super Bowl in 2023, 2027 and 2031. The network will pay $2.1 billion a year, up from $1.1 billion in the current contract. CBS also gets streaming rights to the games on its service Paramount+.
“To be able to have all of this NFL content on Paramount+ is really going to drive subscriptions and usage on that platform,” said CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus. “It’s not your typical old-fashioned broadcast deal.”
NBC keeps “Sunday Night Football,” the highest rated prime-time show, and it will get Super Bowl games in 2025, 2029 and 2033. The fee will increase from $950 million a year to $2 billion. NBC also gets exclusive streaming rights to some of the games for its Peacock service.
Walt Disney Co. will pay $2.7 billion a year to hold onto ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” schedule, but it will also get the rights to carry the Super Bowl on ABC in 2026 and 2030. ABC will also get exclusive rights to three Monday night games per season.
The network has not carried the Super Bowl since 2006. ABC and ESPN games will also be streamed on ESPN+.
Fox is paying $2.25 billion annually to retain its Sunday afternoon package and Super Bowl contests in 2024, 2028 and 2032. But the company passed on keeping its package of Thursday night games. The network pays $650 million a year for nonexclusive rights — the games also run on the NFL Network, are streamed on Amazon Prime and have been a money loser.
Fox also announced that it will offer its NFL games on its ad-supported streaming service Tubi.
Amazon will carry the Thursday night package exclusively for its Amazon Prime members. The Thursday games will still be shown on free TV in the local markets of the teams in action each week.
Amazon had been paying $75 million a year for nonexclusive streaming rights for Thursday games.
A growing number of consumers are using streaming devices to watch sports. Close to 6 million watched Super Bowl LV on online platforms, a record for an NFL game. But 91.6 million people still watched on TV through their cable subscriptions or over-the-air antennas, according to Nielsen data. Seven out of the 10 most watched telecasts in 2020 were NFL contests.
The COVID-19 pandemic meant fewer casual or light NFL viewers were watching at parties.
More sporting events, especially ones with smaller, niche followings such as soccer, are showing up on streaming services. The National Hockey League‘s new deal with ESPN includes 75 regular season games a year that will be shown exclusively on streaming service ESPN+.
But the NFL can still deliver a massive TV audience even for a regular season contest, such as the 30 million viewers who watched the Washington Football Team defeat the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving day last year.
CBS and NBC, which all previously had the rights to Thursday night games, saw losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars as the package failed to deliver the kind of ratings the networks have seen with their weekend packages. Fox also saw significant losses on the package, which led to the network passing on the package this time.
Amazon, which had nonexclusive rights to Thursday night games, will now have them alone. It turns an Amazon Prime membership, which offers free shipping on goods and unlimited streaming for most of its library, into a must-have for dedicated NFL fans and gamblers.
“It will add tremendous value to a Prime membership,” said Marie Donoghue, vice president for global sports video at Amazon.
The Thursday night games are considered the least appealing package in the NFL, as the quality of play is at times diminished by the short rest for teams that had contests the previous Sunday. But the audiences for the contests are still significantly larger than those for the vast majority of prime-time TV shows.
The return of the Super Bowl to ABC adds significant value to the ESPN Monday night package, as the game still continues to pull in $5.5 million for a 30-second spot. The network airing the game, along with pregame and post-game programming, can usually count on taking in $500 million in ad revenue for the day.
The NFL’s announcement of the new agreement did not include its package of out-of-market games called Sunday Ticket currently carried by AT&T’s DirecTV, which has the rights through 2022 at $1.5 billion annually. ESPN+ is a possible landing spot for the service.
ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro said Thursday in a news conference call that the network would be interested in the Sunday Ticket once the NFL opens negotiations. “When the league is ready, we are interested in having that conversation with them,” he said.
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