By Joe Flint 

The National Football League said it has reached long-term pacts with media partners that will make Inc. the new home of Thursday Night Football and significantly expand broadcasters' rights to air games on their digital platforms.

Combined, the 11-year deals are valued at more than $100 billion, according to people familiar with the agreements. The league secured a combined average increase of 75% to 80% in fees from its media partners, one of the people said.

The major broadcast and cable TV packages are staying with the same networks. CBS and Fox, which carry Sunday afternoon games, and NBC, which airs "Sunday Night Football," will see their fees as much as double to the range of $2 billion per season, on average, people familiar with the situation said. The new Sunday deals kick in with the 2023 season.

Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN will pay an average annual fee of $2.7 billion to continue airing "Monday Night Football," up from its current deal of $2 billion, a person with knowledge of the agreement said.

As part of the deal, ESPN and its sister broadcast network, ABC, will join the other big networks in the Super Bowl rotation. In addition, ESPN is also getting two playoff games per season, up from one. ABC is also carrying three exclusive Monday Night Football games and two late-season Saturday games. The new terms with Disney networks start with the 2023 season.

The new contracts show the balance the league is trying to strike by embracing digital platforms, as younger audiences migrate to them, without alienating fans used to watching games on TV. Viewership of NFL games fell 7% in the 2020-2021 regular season, amid the pandemic.

Amazon's move to take over Thursday Night Football is scheduled to start with the 2023 season but it could start as early as the 2022 season. Fox currently has rights to the franchise through 2022, but there is a possibility that the network could exit the deal early, people close to the situation said. If that doesn't happen, Amazon's deal would begin in 2023.

The number of games Amazon will stream is still to be determined but is likely to be 15 games per season on its Prime Video service, a person familiar with the pact said. The games won't be available on television beyond the local markets of the two teams playing. Amazon had been simulcasting Thursday games along with the league-owned NFL Network and Fox for the past few seasons. Amazon is paying an average annual fee of around $1 billion, people with knowledge of that agreement said.

Amazon is betting that the addition of exclusive NFL games will drive people to sample its original content, a senior executive said.

In an interview, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called the Amazon deal a "seminal moment" for both the league and the tech giant. Mr. Goodell compared the partnership to when the NFL agreed to let ESPN carry games in the 1980s, a move that helped put that network on the map.

The league's longtime media partners, meanwhile, are eager to get exclusive rights to air games on their streaming platforms in order to attract subscribers. Peacock, which like NBC is owned by Comcast Corp., will have rights to air "Sunday Night Football" as well as an exclusive feed of a select number of games over the course of its deal.

CBS's sister service Paramount+ will carry games non-exclusively, as will Fox's streaming service, Tubi. The ESPN+ service will have rights to air one exclusive game every season and will be able to simulcast games ESPN airs on TV.

The deals give the league a financial boost after a season in which revenue plummeted amid the coronavirus pandemic. They also have implications for players and teams. The NFL's labor deal with its players ties its salary cap to leaguewide revenue.

While the accords run 11 years, there is a window after year seven for the NFL to end the agreements and renegotiate. In addition, the networks will be able to seek more games for their digital platforms during the deals.

"We all wanted the flexibility to manage a changing media landscape," Mr. Goodell said.

ESPN is also getting something it has long desired -- the ability to get more competitive games on its network late in the season. As it does with NBC's "Sunday Night Football" package, the NFL will "flex" better matchups into the "Monday Night Football" slot during the last month of the season.

The NFL still has to make a new deal for its Sunday Ticket package, a subscription service currently held by AT&T Inc.'s DirecTV that allows fans to watch any Sunday afternoon game. Mr. Goodell said the league will look to "evolve our next Sunday Ticket agreement in a way that will engage companies that will be innovative in looking for ways to get new fans."

The new labor deal with the players gave the league the right to add an additional regular season game -- making the season 17 games -- in exchange for more revenue to the players. The additional week of games, which would begin next season, is giving the league more flexibility to put games on various networks and platforms. ABC, for example, will get two Saturday games with playoff implications during the last weekend of the season.

Asked if this round of media deals would be his last as commissioner, Mr. Goodell said, "you bet your ass."

Andrew Beaton contributed to this article.

Write to Joe Flint at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 18, 2021 16:59 ET (20:59 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.