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NFL’s new broadcast deal will start to ‘streamline’ game experience for fans

Detailed view of the NFL logo on the field.
There is a new TV deal for broadcasting NFL games.
(Alex Burstow / Getty Images)

Much more streaming. Much more money. But that might not be the most impactful aspect of the newest generation of NFL media deals, announced Thursday by the league.

The biggest winner in these agreements could be over-the-air TV.

With everything pointing to its ever-expanding online presence, the NFL underscored its belief that broadcast TV is here to stay — at least for the duration of the deals, which run through the 2033 season.

“I think this is a very good deal for the league, and what it does is it consolidates broadcast television for at least the next decade as the most powerful platform for football,” said legendary TV executive David Hill, responsible for creating Fox Sports, the virtual first-down line in football, the glowing puck in hockey, and all sorts of other innovations.

“In what’s becoming a very moist swamp of broadcast television, the NFL is becoming the only rock on which you can balance your schedule. … Look at the Oscars, the Emmys, the Grammys, the Golden Globes, everything that was rock-solid for decades is crumbling to dust before our very eyes.

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“Yet the NFL keeps churning on.”

New 11-year pact also returns ABC to Super Bowl rotation as part of ESPN’s Monday night package.

These new deals are no ordinary grind. They represent a near doubling of media revenue to more than $10 billion per season over the 11-year life of the contracts, which begin in 2023. The overall value of the packages is a staggering $113 billion, an 80% increase from the deals that now garner the league $5.9 billion per year.

“This is a seminal moment for the distribution of our content,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “These deals remind me of back in the ‘60s, how NFL content and games were a big part of the broadcast TV growth, and then going into the ’80s, with our first commitment to cable television, and then the ‘90s with our commitment to satellite television and our Sunday Ticket package. I’m sure we’re going to look back on these deals the same way that we did back in the 1980s.

Former Fox executive David Hill speaks during a news conference in New York.
Former Fox executive David Hill understands the direction of the new NFL broadcast deals.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press
)

“None of the networks made money on the Thursday night package. I think it had a negative effect on their balance sheet, plus a negative impact on NFL fans.”

— David Hill, former Fox executive

“This provides our fans with greater access. We want to provide our games on more platforms than ever before.”

Amazon Prime Video will assume exclusive rights to “Thursday Night Football,” taking over the entire package from Fox, which has had it since 2018. Before that, CBS and NBC shared the package for two seasons.

By Hill’s thinking, it actually will help the league to make those Thursday games slightly more difficult for fans to access — as opposed to stumbling upon a football game when they’re channel surfing. The airwaves might not feel quite as saturated with football during the week.

“Pete Rozelle always believed that the less NFL that was on broadcast television, the better,” said Hill, referring to the late commissioner who oversaw the league from 1960-89. “As far as he was concerned, Monday Night Football was the maximum. The NFL was a unique product, and you either watched it on Sunday afternoon or on Monday night.”

Added Hill, who stepped down from 21st Century Fox in 2015 yet is still involved in multiple sports TV endeavors: “I always thought that by opening up Thursday night, that was detrimental. Because it became like the NBA; you didn’t have to watch every game.

“None of the networks made money on the Thursday night package. I think it had a negative effect on their balance sheet, plus a negative impact on NFL fans. Now, Sunday becomes the football day again, that and Monday night.”

Those Thursday games will be simulcast in the home markets on broadcast TV.

That said, streaming games is an essential component to the new deals. Each of the networks — CBS, ESPN/ABC, Fox, and NBC –— has a companion streaming service that will feature games.

The Chargers have agreed to terms with veteran tight end Jared Cook after losing Hunter Henry to the New England Patriots in free agency.

“Our fans want this option and understand streaming is the future,” said New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, chairman of the media committee. “We have created a unique hybrid of viewing options and streaming. This should provide a smooth transition to the future of content distribution.”

Among the deals:

CBS: CBS retains the rights for the AFC package of Sunday afternoon games. In addition, all those games will be streamed live on Paramount+, ViacomCBS’ flagship streaming service.

ESPN: ESPN will retain “Monday Night Football.” Additionally, ABC has acquired the rights to televise two Super Bowls along with exclusive regular-season games. ESPN+ subscribers can stream one International Series game on an exclusive national basis every season and the new agreement allows ESPN the opportunity to simulcast all ABC and ESPN games on ESPN+. Because the current ESPN deal expires after this season, the new one includes a bridge agreement that covers the 2022 season.

FOX: Fox will keep its NFC package and expand its digital rights, which includes the streaming platform Tubi. “America’s Game of the Week” has been the most-watched show in television for the last 12 seasons and the most-watched NFL window for the last 20 seasons.

NBC: “Sunday Night Football,” the No. 1 prime-time show on TV for a 10th consecutive year, will continue to be produced by NBC Sports. In addition to simulcasting all “Sunday Night Football” games, Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming service, will deliver an exclusive feed of a select number of NFL games over the course of the agreement. NBC first acquired its package of prime-time games in 2006.

“Sunday Ticket” will remain on DirecTV for the next two seasons, and that wasn’t part of these negotiations.

Goodell said he expects a decision from NFL owners by the end of the month on expanding the regular season to 17 games, and trimming the preseason to three games.


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