Fox, NFL Confirm New 5-year Thursday Night Deal

Fox said its new five year deal to broadcast the National Football League’s Thursday Night Football package includes expanded digital rights.

Fox will pay a reported $550 million a year on average for 11 games a season over the five-year agreement.

CBS and NBC combined had paid a combined $450 million for 10 games for the past two years. Those networks lost $30 million a game, or $300 million this past season, according to figures from analyst Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson Research that were confirmed by industry insiders.

In bidding to keep the Thursday night package, both NBC and CBS bid less money than they’d paid the past two years.

Related: Fox Tackles Thursday Night Football Package: Report

“We explored a responsible bid for Thursday Night Football but in the end are very pleased to return to entertainment programming on television’s biggest night,” said CBS in a statement. “We currently have the two most watched shows on Thursday, including the #1 show on television in Big Bang Theory, and the #1 new show on television in Young Sheldon. At the same time, we look forward to continuing our terrific long-term partnership with the NFL on Sunday afternoons, with more than 100 games per season including next year’s Super Bowl LIII.”

According to research company Standard Media Index, ad revenue on Thursday night NFL games was down 3% in 2017 from the prior season, even though the price for a 30-second commercial rose 7%.

With lower ratings, the networks had to put 6% more free spots in the broadcasts to make-good for advertiser audience guarantee shortfall.

Thursday Night Football last year acounted for about 20% of the gross ad spending on in season games, SMI said.

Paying more, TV sports executives expect Fox to take a bigger loss.

With Fox parent 21st Century Fox selling cable and studio assets, it becomes a smaller company and needed to make a big statement about how its will retain its vitality as it focuses on live sports and news.

Related: Spending on NFL Game Ads Dropped 1.2% During Season

But rival networks point out that because the Thursday night games are simulcast on The NFL Network and will be streamed by a company still to be named, they are not as effective a bargaining chip with cable operators and other distributors. Nor are they particularly popular with affiliates.

Fox’s Thursday night games will be played between weeks 4 and 15 of the regular season, excluding Thanksgiving night. They will also be distributed on Fox Deportes. Fox’s new digital rights enable the network to distribute both Thursday Night Football and its Sunday games to Fox subscribers over an array of digital platforms including mobile phones for the first time.

The agreement also allows the NFL to further develop digital distribution models for Thursday Night Football as well as Fox’s Sunday games, the league and network said.

“Football is in our blood at Fox and we understand that nothing beats the NFL when it comes to television that captures people’s attention,” said Rice. “Our historic relationship with the NFL dates back to the earliest days of Fox, and we couldn’t be more excited to expand our deep and enduring partnership to include primetime games on Thursday night.”

Though ratings for NFL football were down this season, Thursday Night Football was a top 5 show in television and the No. 2 show in primetime.

“This agreement is the culmination of over 10 years of strategic growth around Thursday Night Football, a period during which this property has grown from a handful of late season games on NFL Network to a full season of games and one of the most popular shows on broadcast television with additional distribution via cable and digital channels,” said Goodell. “As one of the leaders in sports television and a recognized innovator of NFL game broadcasts for many years, we’re excited to be extending our partnership with Fox Sports, one of our most trusted and valued partners, to include Thursday Night Football.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.