Three Networks Submit Bids For NFL's "TNF" Package; ABC, Turner Not Among Them
Surprisingly, only three TV networks -- CBS, Fox and NBC -- submitted formal bids for the NFL’s “TNF” package, suggesting that the TV home for the much-criticized package could change next season. Sources say that CBS and NBC submitted bids that would pay a lower rights fee than they currently pay -- a combined $450M per year. Both networks lost money on the current package and sources say advertiser interest in the package is not as keen as it used to be. That would seem to open the door for Fox, which put in a bid that would increase the current rights fee, though it is not known how much higher Fox’ bid went. Fox’ aggressiveness comes as it wants to make a statement about the broadcast network’s future and wants to make a point that it still will be active with sports rights in the wake of Disney’s pending purchase of 21st Century Fox’ entertainment assets and RSNs. ESPN was expected to submit a bid to have games on ABC this year, but execs decided at the last minute against submitting anything because they were not able to develop a profitable business plan given the current rights fees. CBS and NBC have stated publicly that they lose money on the package. Turner Sports also did not submit a bid for the package, marking the first time it has not been part of the “TNF” bidding process since the league first sold it to CBS in ‘14. The NFL in previous bids had made it clear that it would not sell the package to a cable channel, and Turner execs opted not to serve as a stalking horse to help the league push the rights fee higher. Turner also is hamstrung by the fact that it is in the midst of being acquired by AT&T, and that merger is tied up in the court system right now. “TNF” viewership dropped on both CBS and NBC this year. CBS averaged 14.1 million viewers for its five games, down 4% from last season and down 20% from '15. NBC averaged 13.5 million viewers for its five “TNF” games, down 21% from its first season with the package. Despite the drop, “TNF” still is a top five program on primetime TV.
DIGITAL SIDE: Facebook has opted against bidding for the package this time, according to a report last week from Bloomberg. Amazon, which had streaming rights last season, is believed to have submitted a bid, as has Twitter, which held the rights the previous season. The NFL is expected to make a decision on the package in the next several weeks, probably after the Super Bowl.