The NFL completes media deals

Blockbuster pacts include new deals for streaming

Just a week after the NHL announced a return to ESPN/ABC, the NFL announced Thursday it completed its television deals. 

While nothing really earth-shattering (Fox stunning the world in 1994 by grabbing the NFL from CBS or Monday Night Football moving to cable), the new deals does send a message – streamers have indeed made their presence known.  Amazon made the biggest pact, snaring the exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football (games will be made available to over-the-air broadcasters in each team’s home market.)

Another change is ABC returning to the Super Bowl rotation, with the last time the network airing The Big Game was in 2006 (Super Bowl XL.)

All deals – valued somewhere between $100 billion and $105 billion, begin in 2023, lasting for a decade. Also included are the fourteen-team expanded playoffs (which started this year) and a Week 17 game (starts this year.) 

“These new media deals will provide our fans even greater access to the games they love.  We’re proud to grow our partnerships with the most innovative media companies in the market,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “Along with our recently completed labor agreement with the NFLPA, these distribution agreements bring an unprecedented era of stability to the League and will permit us to continue to grow and improve our game.”

In fact, ViacomCBS, NBCUniversal, Fox Corp. and Disney all have deals new NFL deals which include some kind of streaming component. Here’s how each of those conglomerates fared: 

Amazon. The tech giant now has exclusive rights to fifteen regular season games, costing $1 billion annually. 

ViacomCBS. In addition to CBS renewing the AFC package which it’s held since 1998 (and overall since 1956), Paramount Plus will also simulcast all games (the game airing on your local TV affiliate.) CBS gets Super Bowls in 2023, 2027, and 2031.

Fox. Even though it passed on renewing the Thursday Night Football package, the network retains the jewel NFC package and expanded its digital rights deal to include Tubi to deliver NFL programming, with streaming of condensed NFL games and gives Fox a Christmas Day game when the schedule allows. Fox gets Super Bowls in 2024, 2028, and 2032. 

SNF is renewed on NBC so we can watch the Bears lose to the Packers in primetime for ANOTHER ten years.

NBCUniversal. NBC retains top-rated Sunday Night Football for another decade, and now gets to stream those games over Peacock – not to mention an “exclusive feed of NFL games over the course of the agreement”, meaning they get at least one exclusive game to stream – not to mention expanded NFL library programming. They also get more playoff games – one primetime wild card game, an extra wild card in three years of the contract (2023, 2026, and 2031) and one divisional playoff game per year. Airing AFC games from 1965 (with the American Football League) to 1998, NBC returned to the football business in 2006 with SNF. NBC gets Super Bowls in 2025, 2029, and 2033.

Disney/ESPN/ABC. Obviously, the bigger winner. ESPN continues to air Monday Night Football through 2033, and as noted before, ABC returns to the Super Bowl rotation with games in 2026 and 2030 – not to mention airing several select games on ABC. As far as ESPN Plus is concerned, viewers get one International Series a year and the possibility of simulcasting games from ABC and ESPN. 

In addition, the number of Monday Night doubleheaders triples to three per year; ESPN also gets a Saturday doubleheader with playoff implications in Week 17; a divisional playoff game in addition to a wild-card one; greater ability to flex games in after week twelve; and renewal deals for existing NFL programming including daily strip NFL Live, and NFL Primetime for ESPN Plus. In all, Disney gets 23 games as opposed to 17 in the last contract. 

The original home of MNF from 1970 to 2006, ABC aired the upstart AFL from 1960 to 1965. 

The biggest loser? It’s the NFL’s own NFL Network, who figured to get more money from Amazon in the marketplace than sticking the games on its own network as cord cutting accelerates. NFL Network will continue to air a few games, notably on late Saturday afternoons and evenings late in the season. 

As for the Sunday Ticket element, league officials said no deal has been set, despite a New York City radio station erroneously stating one was struck between ESPN Plus and the league to take over from AT&T/DirecTV, who is unlikely to renew and is undergoing a structural change in its ownership.

The takeaway from Thursdays announcement wasn’t exactly favorable for linear TV. Financial analysts – who basically want linear TV dead thinking the spectrum can be put to better use (think 5G phones), were writing its obituary saying streaming is the way to go.

But it’s the NFL that’s essentially keeping linear TV in business (it sure isn’t Young Sheldon or The Simpsons), and with NFL games now on all four broadcast networks simultaneously for the first time, the platform won’t go anywhere anytime soon. Also don’t forget, we still have a digital divide regardless of what the former FCC Chairman said, who basically removed low-income and minority communities from the context. Financial analysts also seem to have the same attitude.  

Let’s not put all our eggs into streaming just yet until disadvantaged communities such as Englewood and Ford Heights are on the same digital wavelength as Lincoln Park and Kenliworth. It’s not too much to ask given what the NFL is receiving in revenue is more than the net worth of the entire West Side, South Side, the South Suburbs, and Gary, Ind. put together. As for the broadcast groups being the biggest losers in all of this, is anyone going to feel sorry for Sinclair or Nexstar? Their answer is to invest more in their blundering cable properties. Well, good luck with that. 

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