Sources: NFL Could Create Eight-Game Package Bringing In Up To $700M
NFL officials say they still have not decided whether to make a new package of Thursday night games available to a cable channel in the next few years. And network execs say they still have not seen any plans -- either formal or informal -- about such a package. But sources with the networks and league believe there eventually will be a package of at least eight games starting with either the '15 or '16 season. Such a package could bring in as much as $700M per year, sources say. Starting next season, NBC will pay an average $950M per year through '22 for its primetime package, and ESPN will pay an average of $1.9B for "MNF" through '21. While there has been no agreement on what that package will look like, the most popular idea so far appears to be adding three games to NFL Network's schedule to give it 16 games, then splitting that package. The NFL would keep eight games on NFL Network and shop the other eight games to interested networks, which include Turner Sports, NBCSN, FS1 and others. The possibility exists for some of the late-season games to be on Saturdays, sources said. A new package could also include a valuable Wild Card playoff game, sources said. Earlier this month, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said adding two teams to the postseason is a priority for the league's competition committee. Any playoff expansion would come in '15. Previously, it was believed that any new TV package would only be created if the NFL expanded its schedule to 18 games. But sources said the NFL will be able to create a new package without expanding the season. By contract, the league could take games from its Sunday afternoon broadcast partners, CBS and Fox, to fill out the schedule.
NFL NETWORK WOULD KEEP SOME GAMES: Even if it shops a new package of games, the league is certain to keep live games on NFL Network. This year, the league has put an all-time high 14 games on the net, including the late Sunday night Chargers-Raiders game on Oct. 6 that had to have its game time switched because of a conflict with the MLB playoffs. Starting last season, NFL Network committed to carry 13 games per year; prior to that, it carried 8 games. Distributors pay the league a license fee of more than $1.30 per subscriber per month for NFL Network, according to SNL Kagan. Without live NFL games, the license fee would drop significantly, sources said. "I don't envision a scenario where there won't be games on NFL Network," NFL Network President Steve Bornstein said. "What we do with Thursday is really being discussed and considered right now." Bornstein was open about the league's desire to build up its Thursday night programming, though he reiterated that the league has not made firm decisions on how it would do that. He flatly denied reports that the NFL was looking into putting two games on Thursday nights, saying there was "no truth" to it. "We're trying to make Thursday a very strong NFL night, similar to what we've done on Sunday and for over 40 years on Monday," he said. "We're discussing it today. We haven't come up with any conclusions of what to do. We're considering different alternatives to make the night much more of an NFL night."
FUTURE OF SUNDAY TICKET UNKNOWN: The more pressing concern for Bornstein, who is leaving the NFL following the Super Bowl, is the Sunday Ticket out-of-market package. The NFL and DirecTV currently are negotiating to renew that deal, which expires after next season, and Bornstein said talks "are going well." "The timing of all this stuff is not anything I want to comment on because I honestly don't know," he said. NFL officials have spoken with alternate platforms, like Google, about the out-of-market package. But Bornstein dismissed the idea of a company like Google competing for existing rights. "To me, 'compete' is not the word; it's 'complement,'" he said. "We believe that the network package, along with the two cable packages that we have currently, along with what we do with our out-of-market package and how we¹ve developed the RedZone, is all complementary to the experience and rises all boats."