Fox’s new deal for the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package could net the network a nice bonus: an extra playoff game.
According to John Ourand of Sports Business Journal, Fox stands to pick up a wild card weekend contest as part of its new agreement — likely the one ESPN and ABC have broadcast the past four years. Ourand reports that no official decision has been made on whether to award ESPN’s playoff game to Fox, but that a clause in ESPN’s deal with the NFL would allow the league to pull the network’s rights.
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 first acquired the right to air a playoff game as part of a 2014 extension of its Monday Night Football broadcast rights. Per Ourand, that contract included periodic “look-ins” that allow the NFL to make changes to the agreement. The league used one of those look-ins in 2015 to ask ESPN to simulcast its playoff game on ABC, and reportedly has another this year.
ESPN’s wild card game falls in the weekend’s worst time slot (Saturday afternoon) and consistently draws lower ratings than the other windows (even on ABC), but even the worst NFL playoff matchup is one of most valuable properties on television, in terms of both viewership and prestige. Losing those rights to a competitor would surely be a blow to ESPN.
Fox already owns rights to one wild card playoff game, along with a divisional round matchup, the NFC Championship game and, every third year, the Super Bowl. The network won the Thursday Night Football package with a bid of $3 billion over the next five years, with 21st Century Fox executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch declaring that “live sport has never been more important than it is today.”