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Volume 23 No. 8
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Our own sports media prognosticator serves up his best predictions for 2020

The NFL will be the source of big moves, and big money, as rights deals play out.
Photo: Getty images
The NFL will be the source of big moves, and big money, as rights deals play out.
Photo: Getty images
The NFL will be the source of big moves, and big money, as rights deals play out.
Photo: Getty images

Expect a ton of sports media activity in 2020, with several of the country’s major sports leagues negotiating their media deals. Here’s how I see these deals shaking out next year.

 

NFL Negotiates Media Deals

First, the NFL will finalize its CBA, which will add a 17th game to the schedule. Then the league office will focus on its TV deals, which will break the bank. I expect the TV networks will pay on average around 60%-70% more than the current deals if those agreements mirror the current ones and go nine years. Shorter deals will see smaller increases. Formal announcements may not come until 2022, but by this time next year, we will know how the packages will look. 

Sunday afternoons: CBS and Fox will keep their Sunday afternoon packages, which will no longer be sold as an AFC package and an NFC package. Fox will pay more for an “A” package that has better games.

Sunday night: NBC will keep it. I can’t envision a scenario where the NFL takes the top-rated primetime show for nine years running (as is expected after this season) off of the network that created it.

Thursday night: This is the only package that will change hands, from Fox to ESPN, which will air it on ABC. ESPN brass has made no secret of the fact that they want to increase the number of live games it carries.

Monday night: ESPN will keep “Monday Night Football,” which it will megacast across ABC and ESPN. The deal will put ABC back in the Super Bowl rotation.

Amazon Picks Up NFL Rights

Amazon will buy an exclusive package with international games and a handful of 1 p.m. Sunday games. The games will be produced by Fox and CBS and will have to be sold to local stations in the teams’ markets. Amazon will continue to simulcast “Thursday Night Football” games.

Netflix Buys Sunday Ticket

Amazon, ESPN+ and DAZN will all put in bids to carry NFL Sunday Ticket when its contract with DirecTV ends in 2021. But Netflix will pick up the rights as part of a shocking bid that shores up the company’s programming in the face of growing competition from Disney+ and others.

Tony Romo Stays With CBS

CBS will re-sign Tony Romo, not allowing its top analyst to leave as it’s negotiating with the NFL on a new deal. ESPN will hire Nate Burleson to join the “Monday Night Football” booth with Joe Tessitore and Booger MacFarland. Drew Brees will retire and walk right into an on-air role with Fox.

SEC Moves to ABC

Fox and NBC will express a lot of interest in CBS’s Saturday afternoon SEC package. CBS will fight to keep it, but ESPN will pick up the rights for ABC for around $300 million per year, a massive increase from the $55 million CBS currently plays. The SEC will ultimately decide it wants more scheduling flexibility by having one partner rather than dividing its rights across two.

PGA Tour Sticks With Incumbents

Incumbent broadcasters CBS and NBC Sports Group will renew their PGA Tour deals, including Golf Channel. What’s particularly interesting about this deal, though, will be the tour’s U.S. digital rights. After initial interest, talks with Amazon will not materialize, and ESPN+ will put in an aggressive bid. But the tour ultimately will decide to sell its digital rights to Discovery, which will make it part of its GolfTV business.

NHL Signs With ESPN And NBC

The NHL will split its package between ESPN and NBC in deals that will pay it $600 million, a significant bump from the league’s current annual average value of $200 million. Amazon will make a play for a package of digital rights to live games, but the NHL will decide to tie its digital play to ESPN+ instead.

Sinclair-owned RSNs Do Not Get Back on Dish

Dish Network will not carry the 21 Sinclair-owned regional sports networks in 2020. The RSNs have been dark on Dish Network since July. The story will be different in 2021, though: That’s when Sinclair’s contracts for its local broadcast channels with Dish expire. Sinclair will tie carriage of the RSNs to carriage of those local broadcast channels, which ultimately will lead to a deal.

Sinclair Buys AT&T RSNs

Sinclair will buy AT&T’s four regional sports networks in Denver/Utah, Houston, Pittsburgh and Seattle. Sinclair will approach Comcast about buying the NBC Sports RSNs, but they will be rebuffed.

Dolan Sells MSG Network

Looking to get out of the channel-owning business, Jim Dolan will sell MSG Network to the same consortium that owns YES Network — the Yankees, Sinclair and Amazon.

The XFL Sees A Second Season

XFL ratings will be big enough that the league will have a second season. I’m confident it also will have a third season, but that’s a prediction for next year. The debut broadcasts on ABC and Fox will exceed 2 million viewers. The season average on broadcast will average a respectable 1.5 million viewers. The games on FS1 and ESPN will average a healthy 800,000 viewers.

NBC Focuses On Women In Tokyo

NBC will promote Team USA as a platform for women empowerment in an unprecedented way. American women have out-medaled the men in three of the past four Olympics and again promise to provide many of the best storylines from the Games with athletes such as Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles and Simone Manuel.

2020 Still Will Not Be The Year For VR

I need to make sure that at least one of my predictions comes true.

 

 

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ and read his twice-weekly newsletter.