NFL Signs $105 Billion TV Deal, With Amazon Taking Thursdays

The National Football League announced a new series of long-term TV deals valued at an estimated $105 billion, including a historic contract giving Amazon.com Inc. exclusive rights to Thursday football broadcasts, a first for a streaming company.

Under the accord, CBS and Fox will continue to carry daytime games on Sundays and gain expanded digital rights, the parties said Thursday. NBC will retain rights to Sunday evening telecasts, including streaming, while ESPN will keep “Monday Night Football,” gain online rights, and see some games carried on its sister network ABC. The agreements begin with the 2023 season and run through the 2033 season.

The contracts mark some big changes: Traditional media companies will be paying a lot more for NFL football -- as much as double what they were shelling out before, according to reports that preceded the announcement. But they also get online rights to coverage. And for the first time, an internet company has grabbed exclusive rights -- bringing the potential for innovative coverage to the staid world of sports.

“When I started in this world, it was simple process of conducting an auction for the two conferences,” Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, said at a briefing. “Over the last two decades, renewing our media rights has become a more detailed, customized and collaborative process.”

Several networks are paying roughly double their current fees, helping push the total above $105 billion, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The colossal sum is a victory for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who showed the league can still command big bucks -- even after years of uneven ratings and controversies involving concussions and players kneeling during the national anthem.

Here’s how they break down by network:

ESPN/ABC

Walt Disney Co. agreed to pay an estimated $2.7 billion a year for “Monday Night Football” on ESPN and ABC, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the terms aren’t public. With the deal, ABC acquired rights to carry two Super Bowls, along with regular season games. ESPN+ subscribers can stream one international game on an exclusive national basis every season. The agreement allows ESPN the opportunity to simulcast all ABC and ESPN games on ESPN+.

Fox

The Fox Corp. network will pay about $2 billion annually, one of the people said, for the National Football Conference package of Sunday afternoon games it has carried since 1994. The broadcaster also expanded its digital rights, including rights for its streaming platform Tubi to deliver NFL programming on digital platforms. Fox’s “America’s Game of the Week” has been the most-watched show in all of TV for the last 12 seasons and the most-watched NFL window for the last 20 seasons, the league said.

NBC

Comcast Corp.’s entertainment division agreed to pay about $2 billion a year for “Sunday Night Football,” according to a person with knowledge of the matter. That was described as less than double the $1.1 billion in the current deal. The accord includes rights to simulcast all “Sunday Night Football” games on Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming service, along with an exclusive feed of select games over the course of the deal. NBC first acquired its package in 2006.

CBS

ViacomCBS Inc. will be paying slightly less than $2 billion annually for its multiplatform package, a person said. The CBS network keeps the rights for the American Football Conference’s Sunday afternoon games. All games will be broadcast on the CBS Television Network and streamed live on the Paramount+ streaming service. CBS has been airing the NFL since 1956.

Amazon

In the NFL’s first ever all-digital package, Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Video acquired exclusive rights to “Thursday Night Football” across compatible streaming devices, agreeing to pay about $1 billion a year, according to a person familiar with the terms. The online giant wants to distinguish the sports-streaming experience from watching TV by adding interactive features that let viewers access real-time stats through its “XRay” feature, which can also be used on Amazon Prime Video to learn more about the cast in a movie or show.

The new deals were must-have for the broadcasters, which have lost millions of viewers to new online entertainment options in recent years. Pay-TV subscribers in the U.S. have fallen to 85 million from a peak of almost 105 million a decade ago.

“This is a seminal moment for the distribution of our content,” Goodell said at the briefing. The league helped fuel the growth of broadcast television in the 1960s, cable in the ’80s and satellite TV in the ’90s, he said. Now it may have a similar effect online.

“NFL football has shown historically the ability to advance those new technologies and change fan behavior,” he said. “I’m sure we’re going to look back at these deals in the same way.”

While TV audiences have been splintered by streaming and other entertainment options, the NFL remains the most-popular programming on television. The Super Bowl is the most-watched annual event on TV -- it drew 96.4 million viewers this year -- and NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” is the highest-rated regularly scheduled programming, with an audience of almost 17 million a night last season.

That makes football a huge magnet for advertisers that want to reach millions of live-TV viewers at once. It’s also a key source of revenue for broadcast and cable programmers, even if they don’t earn much profit from the games themselves because of the soaring royalties they’ll be paying the NFL. Sports broadcasts are a key platform for media companies to promote their comedies, dramas and new movies.

The league’s current contracts with ViacomCBS, Fox and NBC were to run through the 2022-2023 season, while the pact with ESPN expired after 2021-2022. The league also has an agreement with AT&T Inc.’s DirecTV that runs though 2022-2023. It lets pay-TV customers see Sunday games that aren’t carried by their local TV services.

The deal shows that traditional, or linear, TV is still key to media companies’ strategies -- even in the streaming era.

“The prediction that the broadcast networks are disappearing was wrong,” Neal Pilson, head of sports-media consulting firm Pilson Communications Inc. “Look for the other major sports to keep their primary events and games on linear TV with ancillary deals on digital.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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