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Volume 21 No. 6
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Fox Sports eyes a playoff game

Fox Sports is in line to pick up an NFL wild card playoff game as part of its “Thursday Night Football” deal, sources said. It’s unclear whether the game in question is the one that’s been on ESPN and ABC for the past several seasons, but that’s the game that appears most likely in play.

 

Sources said no final decision has been made, though it’s the NFL’s decision — not ESPN’s — about whether to move it.

 

ESPN picked up rights to carry an NFL wild card playoff game starting in 2015 as part of its most recent “Monday Night Football deal. At the time, ESPN was eager to carry a playoff game — something it had never had before — and paid around $100 million per year for the right to it.

  

The rights deal, however, allowed the NFL to have periodic “look-ins,” where the league could propose changes or even pull back the rights. During its first look-in, the NFL convinced ESPN to simulcast the game on ABC, starting in 2016.

 

The NFL has another look-in this year, during which time it is considering moving the game off of ESPN.

 

The NFL alluded to the possibility of moving the game in the “Thursday Night Football” RFP it sent out late last year. In that document, the league asked broadcasters to bid on a playoff game, though it did not specify whether that game was ESPN’s.

 

Fox’s “Thursday Night Football” bid is believed to include considerations to carry that game.

 

ESPN executives may not balk at the idea of the game leaving its air, with several saying privately that they have not been able to make a profit on it.

 

ESPN has been looking to cut costs for more than a year, and the fact that ESPN is being guided by an interim president adds to the uncertainty about whether the network even wants the playoff game.

 

ESPN has carried the worst time slot of wild card weekend — the early game on Saturday — and its ratings have been the lowest of wild card weekend since it picked up the package.

 

This year, for example, the Titans-Chiefs game was one of the most exciting of wild card weekend, but averaged 22.1 million viewers on ESPN and ABC — the lowest viewership since the game’s been simulcast on two networks. In its first season in 2015, coverage of the Panthers-Cardinals was only on ESPN, and averaged 21.6 million viewers.

— John Ourand