As has been expected, the networks broadcasting NFL games re-upped with the league on a new deal yesterday. NBC, CBS, and Fox will now all carry NFL games into the 2022 season. The current arrangement with the three networks expires after the 2013 season and both sides were eager to pen a new contract. The three networks will pay an average of over ONE BILLION DOLLAS PER YEAR EACH for the rights to NFL games. (If you want to get granular with the numbers, Fox pays the highest amount at 1.1 billion because NFC teams are in traditionally stronger markets.) It’s an insane amount of money and shows the significance of the NFL and televising live sports in general. Let’s face it, with the advent of the DVR, sports is one of the few events on television that has to be seen live – thus rights fees are going through the roof all over sports. And the NFL is king of the mountain of live sports.
With the new deal starting in 2014 will come several very interesting changes for NFL fans and sports media geeks like yours truly. The structures of the NFL deals with its networks are the most interesting of any sport and a major shift to the landscape will come when the new contract kicks in. Here’s each of the major developments of the new contract between the NFL and Fox/CBS/NBC…
*Flex Scheduling Expansion
This is perhaps the biggest change to how we will watch the NFL. Not only will NBC receive enhanced flex scheduling for Sunday Night Football, but both Fox and CBS will have flex capabilities. In a move that alters my reality, Fox will now have the ability to broadcast AFC games and CBS will have the ability to broadcast NFC games. Here’s that part of the announcement from the NFL…
Flexible scheduling – which ensures quality matchups in all NFL Sunday time slots and gives teams a chance to play their way onto primetime on NBC and into the late-afternoon 4:15 PM ET time slot on CBS and FOX – remains a viewer-friendly element of the network broadcast agreements. It will be expanded in 2014, including the ability to move games between CBS and FOX to bring regional games to wider audiences. Further details on enhanced flexible scheduling will be developed with the networks.
If you’re like me, AFC games on Fox and NFC games on CBS is shocking news. I don’t know about you, but there has always been a sense of comfort level knowing that Fox was the network to watch my Saints since it was the “NFC” network. But ultimately, this enhanced flex scheduling is a huge victory for NFL fans around the country…
As it stands right now, Fox and CBS rotate national doubleheaders. One network will air games at 1 ET and 4 ET that go to most of the nation. Take this week for example – CBS has the national doubleheader this week and will air Patriots/Broncos at 4 PM ET to most of the United States. They will also televise Jets/Eagles and Browns/Cardinals regionally while Fox has regional coverage at 4 ET with Lions/Raiders.
Putting the pieces of the puzzle together, (with help from the best guys in the space like John Ourand, Ken Fang, and Richard Deitsch), the networks and the league will now have the ability to flex games from one network to another for those national windows. For example, if Lions @ Raiders, the Fox game at 4 ET this week, was the more compelling matchup, it could be flexed into the national window on CBS in exchange for a game like Browns/Cardinals.
In a nutshell, the NFL and the networks will now be able to show the best games possible to the most amount of people, regardless of conference or network affiliation. This doesn’t create complete and total chaos as for which networks televise which games – CBS will still have nearly all the AFC games and Fox nearly all the NFC games. However, you may see games like Patriots/Steelers on Fox and Saints/Packers on CBS in order to reach larger audiences in those nationally televised slots.
The only question remains how those decisions will be made from week to week. We just saw a good ol’ fashioned western showdown between NBC and CBS for the Patriots/Broncos game this weekend that CBS ultimately won out. As complicating as flexing has been to move games from CBS/Fox to NBC for Sunday Night Football, how much more complicated will it be to complete this three way flexing dance? My guess is we won’t see too many games actually switch networks amongst Fox and CBS, perhaps only 5-10. But it will be very interesting to see how it plays out and how the NFL will be able to please its three network television partners in flexing their scheduling muscles.
NBC trades in one of their Wild Card games (they have had the rights to a Saturday WC doubleheader) in exchange for a Divisional Playoff game. I would imagine that Divisional game would alternate between Fox and CBS, but it’s unclear at this time if that’s the official word. That Wild Card game given up by NBC is rumored to perhaps be moving to ESPN, giving them one playoff game to go along with the Monday Night Football package. CBS, NBC, and Fox will continue their three year rotation for broadcasting the Super Bowl.
*Thanksgiving Night Move
The new Thanksgiving Night game, which has been broadcasted by NFL Network since its inception in 2006, will move to NBC. This means all three broadcast networks will have televised games on Thanksgiving Day. It’s a great move for the league as they will now own Thanksgiving Day from noon till midnight. Unlike the other elements of the new contract, the NBC Thanksgiving night game begins next year in 2012. Again, another move to put more NFL games in more homes.
*Expanded Thursday Night Package
Also beginning in 2012 will be more Thursday Night Football games on NFL Network. The exact number wasn’t announced by the NFL, but it should be somewhere between their current 8 game package and a full 16 game calendar. (NBC has the rights to the Thursday night opener in Week 1.) It’s been rumored for a while now that the NFL would open bidding for a new Thursday night package in the beginning of the season to compliment NFL Network’s games in the second half of the year. However, as we discussed earlier this month, a limited handful of more games on NFL Network makes sense for the channel and the league for now. Perhaps with more live Thursday night games on NFL Network next year, Time Warner can finally stop screwing me and add the $%#in’ channel to my cable package!
*New NBC Sports Network NFL Pregame Show
And finally, a hidden development in the new contract will be a new NFL pregame show on the NBC Sports Network. The Sunday morning NFL zoo is already crowded with NFL Network and ESPN featuring expanded studio shows and the traditional 12-1 ET pregame shows on CBS and Fox. With absolutely no details available three years ahead of time, my educated guess is NBC takes on Sunday NFL Countdown and NFL Gameday head-on with an extended pregame show.
It would be another throw down the gauntlet at Bristol and NBC has the talent to pull it off. NBC’s studio trio of Dan Patrick, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison is by far the best in the league because they stay away from the staged guffawing of their cohorts and provide real analysis. They’ve proven that less is more after dumping castaways like Tiki Barber, Keith Olbermann, and Jerome Bettis. Furthermore, NBC has two of the top NFL writers in their stable in Peter King and Mike Florio. Patrick would be a great host to build an expanded studio show around and Bob Costas can even add his cachet as well.
ESPN already expanded their NFL coverage earlier this year and NBC has to follow suit if they want to build a legitimate challenger to Bristol. For NBC Sports Network to be taken seriously, they have to double down on NFL properties. 2014 is miles away in the 24/7 sports cycle, but establishing a smarter, more sophisticated Sunday morning NFL show without all the gimmicks would provide a nice alternative to Chris Berman huffing and puffing his way through Andrew “Press Your” Luck highlights.
All in all, each of the four networks involved – NBC, CBS, Fox, and NFL Network, are all winners. NBC adds two high profile games to their schedule and gets enhanced flexing while continuing to build their cable brand. Fox and CBS are both guaranteed more attractive games in their national doubleheader windows. NFL Network picks up more games and maybe even the final bit of leverage they need to get in more homes. Even ESPN may benefit if they are able to add a Wild Card game to Monday Night Football. Of course, the cost of those additions are ginormous, but each network can go home knowing they’ve added to their NFL portfolios.
But the biggest winners of all in the new television contract are fans of the NFL. Simply put, more of us will be able to see better games more of the time. The enhanced flex scheduling across the map should prove to be a hit when it comes to life in 2014. Now, if there was only some way to ensure we never have to watch duds like Rams/Seahawks on Monday Night Football ever again…