Sources: Fox Picks Up "TNF" Rights, Replacing CBS, NBC
Fox will replace CBS and NBC as the “TNF” broadcaster as part of a five-year deal that will be announced later today, according to sources. Fox’ deal will pay the NFL more than the combined $450M per year CBS and NBC paid over the last two years. Sources peg Fox’ payout at an average of around $550M per year through the '22 season, which syncs up with the league’s other TV deals. This is a strong sign for the NFL, as it shows its programming remains among the most valuable in entertainment.
As part of the deal, Fox will carry 11 “TNF” games per season. Those games will be simulcast on NFL Network and a digital partner still to be named. NFL Network will carry an undetermined number of games exclusively in order to adhere to its pay-TV affiliate deals. As part of the deal, Fox picked up expanded mobile rights for its Thursday and Sunday games. Fox’ top NFL broadcast team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will not be in the booth for the “TNF” games, which marks a difference from previous Thursday deals when the NFL mandated that CBS and NBC use its top broadcast teams. The NFL last year did allow NBC to use Mike Tirico on Thursday in place of Al Michaels.
Bidding occurred over the past several weeks with CBS, Fox and NBC submitting formal bids. Sources say that CBS and NBC submitted bids that were less than their current deals. ESPN had considered placing a bid that would put games on ABC but decided at the last minute not to submit a bid. Turner, which had been part of the “TNF” bidding process, decided not to bid. Fox put in a strong bid just weeks after Disney announced plans to buy 21st Century Fox’ entertainment assets and RSNs.
The deal shows that a newer, slimmed down TV network still will be a major player in expensive sports rights. It also indicates that the new Fox -- as company execs call it -- will continue to value live programming rights. Fox believes its position as a Sunday afternoon and Thursday night NFL broadcaster will allow it to work with the league to create better schedules for both. Imagine a scenario where Fox, for example, puts a traditional NFC late Sunday window game in its Thursday night window. Fox on Thursdays during the '17 NFL season typically aired “Gotham” and “The Orville” in the 8:00-10:00pm ET window. The net went to local news after that.
The deal comes as TV ratings for “TNF” have considerably dropped and network profits have shrunk. CBS and NBC publicly have stated that they lose money on “TNF.” Additionally, viewership dropped on both networks this year -- CBS’ 14.1 million viewership average was down 4% from last season and down 20% from '15, while NBC’s 13.5 million viewership average was down 21% from '16. Still, “TNF” remains one of the highest-rated series on television.
Network execs have complained that the expansion of “TNF” has diluted the game too much and hurt TV ratings. Players have railed against that package, believing it contributes to more injuries. In fact, the NFL earlier this week released data showing that more players were injured on Thursday nights this season (an average of 6.9) compared to the previous season (6.3). Fans also have bashed “TNF,” complaining that the quality of play is not as good as Sunday, when players are fully rested.
Digital rights still are up for sale for “TNF,” with a deal set to be finalized in the weeks after the Super Bowl. Amazon, Twitter and at least one other digital company have submitted bids, though it is too early to declare a front-runner.