By Joe Flint
The National Football League unveiled long-term media deals that
people familiar with the matter said are valued at over $100
billion, providing a windfall for the league and significantly
expanding the availability of games on streaming platforms.
The league secured a combined average increase of 75% to 80% in
fees from its media partners in the 11-year deals that were
announced Thursday, one of the people said.
Amazon.com Inc. will become the new home of Thursday Night
Football. The major broadcast and cable TV packages are staying
with the same networks, with CBS and Fox retaining Sunday afternoon
games and NBC keeping "Sunday Night Football." ESPN will hold onto
"Monday Night Football" and its sister network ABC will join the
rotation of broadcasters who televise the Super Bowl.
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. Beyond the Amazon deal, all the TV networks will
get new rights to air certain games on their nascent
"This is about the future," Robert Kraft, the New England
Patriots owner who chairs the NFL's media committee, said in an
interview, adding that the deals allow the league and its partners
to adapt to an "environment that's changing so fast."
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 the salary cap for teams to leaguewide revenue, so
higher media revenue means teams will be able to spend more on
their rosters. The labor deal 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.
"It's amazing that we were able to do these deals in a
post-Covid environment," Mr. Kraft said in the interview.
Amazon's move to take over Thursday Night Football is scheduled
to start with the 2023 season, but could start as early as the 2022
season. Fox Corp.-owned Fox currently has the 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.
In an interview, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called the
Amazon deal a "seminal moment" for both the league and the tech
giant, comparing it to when the NFL agreed to let ESPN carry games
in the 1980s, a move that helped put that network on the map.
"They are going to find new ways to reach fans and change the
way people watch football," Mr. Goodell said.
Amazon will stream 15 games per season on its Prime Video
service, the company said. The games will not 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. The company is
betting that the addition of exclusive NFL games will drive people
to sample its original content, said Mike Hopkins, senior vice
president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios.
CBS, Fox and NBC 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
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. The network
is 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.
ESPN is also getting something it has long desired -- the
ability to "flex" better matchups into the "Monday Night Football"
slot during the last month of the season. Most of the new terms
with Walt Disney Co.-owned networks kick in with the 2023
The streaming service 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. Paramount+, the sister service to ViacomCBS
Inc.-owned CBS, 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.
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.
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."
Asked if this round of media deals would be his last as
commissioner, Mr. Goodell said, "you bet your ass."
Write to Joe Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
March 18, 2021 18:47 ET (22:47 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.