After a report late Tuesday night by Bloomberg stating 21st Century Fox Inc. was closing in on a contract for the rights to broadcast “Thursday Night Football,” it became official Wednesday morning. The five-year deal lasting through 2022 is reportedly worth over $3 billion.
The terms have not been released by Fox or the NFL, but according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, Fox will pay $660 million annually for to broadcast 11 “Thursday Night Football” games from week four through 15, not including Thanksgiving. The contract equates to over $60 million per game, a more than 30% increase from the $45 million CBS and NBC paid the last two seasons.
The NFL, which had previously worked on shorter term deals to maximize market value, showed more of a commitment to Fox with the agreed five-year contract.
“We feel very confident in their ability to continue to grow this franchise,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said on a Wednesday morning conference call.
For Fox, the decision to invest in “Thursday Night Football” is an interesting reversal based on comments made by CEO James Murdoch in November.
Regarding the NFL oversaturating its product, Murdoch stated, “I do think the proliferation of Thursday availability, and the proliferation of football generally, does mean that you’re asking a lot from customers to watch Thursday. And then they watch a lot more college football games on Saturdays, and then on Sundays, and then on Monday Night Football, etc. It’s a lot. So I do think that preserving the scarcity value of those events and that audience is something that is worth thinking about.”
With the planned sale of $52.4 billion in Fox assets to the Walt Disney Company, Fox is expected to continue pursuing large sports broadcast partnerships. After agreeing to pay 30% more than rival networks CBS and NBC did the last two seasons, Fox’s stock dipped 4% today, showing some investors question the long-term health of the NFL. Despite the league’s continued ratings decline and “Thursday Night Football” being the least appealing NFL game package, it remains a proven commodity, providing a boost to the network’s prime-time schedule.
A new digital partner for “Thursday Night Football” has not been announced yet, but according to Goodell a deal will be completed within the next couple of weeks. Last season, Amazon paid the league $50 million for the rights to stream 11 games, which is five times the amount Twitter paid the previous year.
Questions of which broadcast team will do the games and will they air on the Fox Broadcast Network or their national sports networks FS1 and FS2 remain to be seen. John Ourand reported Joe Buck and Troy Aikman are unlikely to do the “Thursday Night Football” broadcast. Buck would be unavailable for a number of games because of his Major League Baseball playoff responsibilities.
Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis, being the network’s NFL “B Team,” would be the likely choice to broadcast “TNF.” However, that can also get in the way of Fox’s MLB playoff studio coverage, which Burkhardt hosts.