On Monday, John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal posted his annual sports media predictions for the next year. They’re a fun, sometimes dead-on and sometimes not, look at the upcoming year, and always a must-read for the staff of this site.
In his column looking ahead to 2021, Ourand dropped a nugget about Thursday Night Football that we found interesting. Largely, it’s that none of the NFL’s TV partners are too interested in the package.
The TV networks have told the NFL that they are not interested in the “TNF” package. The lack of exclusivity is a main reason for their lack of interest, since games currently are spread across Fox, NFL Network and Amazon.
TNF really is the TV rights bicycle of the NFL – everyone gets a ride, and after their ride, they’re fine not hopping back on board.
Starting off as an NFL Network exclusive package, the NFL eventually partnered with CBS for two seasons, beginning in 2014. After that two season run, NBC got involved and the package was split even further. Following two more seasons, Fox ended up as the NFL’s primary partner for TNF along with Amazon, who had joined up in 2017. Both Fox and Amazon are locked in to TNF for two more seasons (through 2022).
The lack of exclusivity being a deal breaker isn’t surprising. The extra inventory of NFL games obviously isn’t a bad thing for Fox, but when someone can watch those extra games on three different broadcast, cable, or streaming outlets, the power of the inventory is lessened. This is especially true when you consider that Fox is in the midst of a $3 billion deal for the TNF rights. Paying that kind of money made more sense three years ago, but today, with a disappointing slate of games that someone can watch with their Amazon Prime membership, it seems like a foolish investment.
Clearly, the focus for Fox will be to retain their Sunday package, with CBS likely attempting to do the same and NBC keeping Sunday Night Football in the fold. ESPN is the biggest wild card in the NFL’s next round of rights negotiations, but I can’t see them ditching Monday nights for Thursdays, or adding Thursday nights to their tentpole MNF package.
Where does that leave TNF? Ourand projects the rights to go to Amazon, which would share the rights with NFL Network. I’d doubt that Amazon would pay the reported $60 million per game that Fox is dishing out – the rights fee they began paying this year was never widely reported, though the company paid $65 million per season in both 2018 and 2019, and the latest deal reportedly came with an increase on that amount. That’s still far less than what Fox was paying, and maybe the NFL will just be content in offsetting that loss with increases in its more traditional TV deals.
The logical thing to do here would be to just eliminate Thursday Night Football to ensure players remain healthy, but it’s damn near impossible to imagine the NFL stuffing that genie back in the bottle.