When 21st Century Fox sold its empire of regional sports networks to Disney late last year, it was fair to wonder whether the company was moving away from sports, at least to some degree. If Fox was bearish on the value of local rights fees, it was fully possible the company would be similarly bearish on national rights fees and would reduce or freeze its portfolio of major events.
Well it seems as if, for now at least, Fox remains interested in live sports content. On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that the network has submitted a bid for the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package, with proposals involving both the Fox flagship network and FS1. Per Bloomberg, Disney has also bid, with the intention of airing the games on ABC. CBS and NBC reportedly plan to bid as well, while hoping to pay less than they did this past year, when they spent a combined $450 million for 10 games.
Bloomberg reports that the NFL will also accept digital-only bids, opening the door for Amazon, Facebook and others to pursue the package. Amazon carried Thursday Night Football digital streams in 2017 and has demonstrated a willingness to invest in live sports. Per Bloomberg, either Amazon or Facebook could outbid the TV networks, which would leave the NFL to decide whether the extra cash is worth the lower viewership that would come with it.
“The league is going to make a watershed decision on whether to go for money or for distribution,” said Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports. “With conventional networks like NBC or CBS you’re talking about distribution that’s reasonably guaranteed.”
With an online-only broadcast by a tech giant, “you might lose a substantial part of your audience. However, they might offer more money,” he said.
Also in Bloomberg’s report is the revelation that some bidders have proposed changes to Thursday Night Football, such as limiting the games to teams with a full week of rest or moving some of them to other days of the week. The Thursday contests have been widely criticized for forcing players to compete before they are fully recovered from previous games, resulting in injuries, discomfort and a lower quality of play.
The winner of the Thursday Night Football bidding process will reportedly be announced either the week before the February 4 Super Bowl or the week after.