×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Fox Poised to Win Rights to ‘Thursday Night Football’

Executives at Fox Sports believe they are close to winning the rights to show the National Football League’s “Thursday Night Football” for at least the next season, a deal that would illustrate the company’s need for live sports at a time when viewership for professional football games are eroding .

The 21st Century Fox unit is bidding aggressively, and executives feel they may complete a deal with the NFL in the next few days, according to a person familiar with the matter.  A spokesman for Fox Networks Group, the operating unit that includes Fox Sports, declined to comment. A spokesman for the NFL did not respond to a query seeking comment.

CBS and NBC paid a total of $450 million last season for the rights to air a combined package of ten games that was split among both networks. The two networks paid the same amount for the rights in the 2016-2017 season as well. CBS and NBC have indicated their interest in airing the games could wane if licensing costs rose without any new benefits, according to people familiar with the situation. Bloomberg News reported Tuesday night that Fox had submitted a bid that would be higher than the $45 million per game agreed to last season by CBS and NBC.

Whether the NFL had determined how to award rights to live-stream the games digitally was not immediately clear.

21st Century Fox has reason to try to capture the games. The company has proposed to sell the bulk of its assets – including its various TV production studios – to Walt Disney Co. in a deal valued at $52.4 billion. Fox would keep its Fox broadcast network, Fox Sports and FS1 cable network, leaving it more reliant on live sports broadcasts to draw audiences. Fox already airs NFL games on Sunday afternoons.

At the same time, NFL games aren’t the bonanza they once were. To be certain, NFL match-ups remain some of TV’s most-viewed properties, but their audience has begun to ebb over the last two seasons. Regular-season viewership for NFL games in the most recent season was off 13%, while viewership for the league’s playoff games fell between 12% and 20%, according to research from Michael Nathanson, an independent media-industry analyst. “The NFL is experiencing a structural decline in viewership, and it is going to be an issue!” Nathanson wrote in a January 29 report.

Adding the Thursday-night games will only increase Fox’s reliance on football. By Nathanson’s estimate, 40% of Fox’s  gross ratings points are related to its football broadcasts.

The Thursday-night games have sparked debate. They capture a sizable audience and top dollar from advertisers, but the general consensus among TV executives is that the games have been weaker than what is shown on Sunday and on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” Ad buyers say the new flight of games dilutes the TV networks’ inventory of football, allowing them to seek lower pricing and avoid some of the league’s best-known properties, including the annual Super Bowl.

The NFL originally brought the games to CBS for a two-year deal that called for them to be simulcast with the NFL Network. The league was interested in gaining new interest for its cable outlet. The NFL subsequently split the games between CBS and NBC, in a deal that played havoc with both networks’ fall schedules and gave NBC more leverage in commanding higher ad prices, because its games aired closer to the holiday season. The league further split for the games by awarding streaming rights to Twitter, then Amazon.

Sports executives believe the league is less concerned with the viability of its NFL Network, and now sees the games as  means of securing tie-ups with digital-media players, who are likely to show new interest in live sports content in months and years to come.  CBS, Fox and NBC are already paying the NFL a whopping $27.9 billion between 2014 and 2022 to air Sunday-afternoon games on CBS and Fox and “Sunday Night Football” on NBC. When that deal lapses, the networks and the league will certainly face an entirely new ballgame.

 

More TV

  • NCIS Los Angeles and NCIS New

    'NCIS: Los Angeles' and 'NCIS: New Orleans' Renewed at CBS

    CBS has renewed “NCIS: Los Angeles” for an 11th season, and “NCIS: New Orleans” for a sixth season. Both action drama are spinoffs of “NCIS,” which was renewed in early April. “NCIS: Los Angeles” follows a Naval Criminal Investigative Service division based in the City of Angels that is tasked with catching dangerous and elusive [...]

  • BRAZILIAN FLAGFRENCH OPEN TENNIS, PARIS, FRANCE

    Brazil’s Ancine Freezes Incentives, Threatening Film-TV Industry Paralysis

    Brazil’s Ancine agency, its foremost public-sector source of film funding, has frozen all of its incentive programs, potentially near paralyzing new production in Latin America’s biggest film-TV industry. The dramatic decision, which has left Brazil’s industry is a state of shock and intense fear for its future, comes as it has taken further hits. In [...]

  • TV Shows to Watch the Week

    TV Shows to Watch the Week of April 22, 2019: 'Gentleman Jack' and the NFL Draft

    Welcome back to Tune In: our weekly newsletter offering a guide to the best of the week’s TV. Each week, Variety’s TV team combs through the week’s schedule, selecting our picks of what to watch and when/how to watch them. This week, “Gentleman Jack” debuts on HBO, and “Kobra Kai” season two drops on YouTube [...]

  • Steve Golin The Revenant Spotlight Producer

    Steve Golin, Prolific Producer and Founder of Anonymous Content, Dies at 64

    Steve Golin, an Oscar-winning producer who was founder and CEO of Anonymous Content, has died of cancer. He was 64. Golin was a pioneer in blending the business of talent management with production. Anonymous Content, which Golin founded in 1999, worked with a stable of big name artists such as Steven Soderbergh, Emma Stone, Edgar [...]

  • The Iron Throne, which has been

    'Game of Thrones': Six Books for Fans to Read

    As the final season of “Game of Thrones” draws to a close, we’ve found six best-selling books that keep the stories of Westeros and beyond alive. From the original novels that inspired the hit HBO show, to collectible tomes that highlight behind-the-scenes secrets, these books make a great addition to your bookcase, whether you’re a [...]

  • CBS Sports, WNBA Strike TV Deal

    CBS Sports, WNBA Strike TV Deal

    CBS Sports and the WNBA struck a new deal to televise some of the league’s games, widening exposure for professional women’s basketball in the U.S. Under terms of the deal, CBS Sports Network will broadcast 40 live WNBA games in primetime and on weekends, starting Saturday May 25 as the league’s 2019 season gets underway. [...]

  • Robin Roberts Omarosa

    Disney Makes Big Play to Stay in NFL's TV-Football Game

    Robin Roberts is moving this week from mornings on ABC to primetime. And while the shift is temporary, the business machinations behind it are likely to continue. Roberts, best known for her regular appearances on “Good Morning America,” will serve this Thursday as an important presence on one night of ABC’s multi-evening coverage of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content