The NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” TV package will have a new home in 2018 and for the foreseeable future, moving from CBS and NBC to Fox, the network announced Wednesday.
The digital rights, last held by Amazon, still are up for grabs, Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand reports.
Even though the league’s TV ratings were down 9.7 percent this season, eight of the top 10 single telecasts in 2017 were NFL games. Fox paid accordingly: According to Bloomberg’s Scott Soshnick and Lucas Shaw, the network’s bid was higher than the $45 million per game that CBS and NBC paid last year for the Thursday night package. Ourand reports that Fox will pay around $550 million per year over the next five seasons (so around $55 million per game), while ESPN’s Darren Rovell pegs the total at more than $600 million per year.
CBS and NBC reportedly bid less for the package than they previously paid for it.
CBS Sports on the Fox-TNF deal: “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...— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) January 31, 2018
NBC Sports on the TNF to Fox news: "We made a competitive bid based on our 2 years of carrying TNF. We'll now continue to focus on keeping NBC's Sunday Night Football in its perch as primetime's number one program, which has reached a record 7 consecutive years."— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) January 31, 2018
Ourand adds that Fox’s No. 1 play-by-play team, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, will not be calling the games.
“We feel very confident in their ability to continue to grow this franchise,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said on a conference call Wednesday morning.
Fox aired “Gotham” and “The Orville” on Thursday nights this past fall, drawing ratings that paled in comparison with those put up by the pro football games broadcast by CBS and NBC. As of Dec. 21, the “Thursday Night Football” package on CBS was third overall in fall 2017 prime time TV ratings behind NBC’s Sunday night NFL package and “This Is Us.” NBC’s Thursday night games ranked fifth. According to the Bloomberg scribes, Fox “ranks last among the broadcast networks in total audience and is tied for second among viewers 18 to 49.”
Despite the comparatively good TV ratings, the Thursday night games have been criticized from all sides, including by Fox CEO James Murdoch, who expressed his concern about the oversaturation of televised football in October.
“There’s a question mark for the NFL, which is just to think hard about how they’re licensing,” Murdoch said. “So I do think the proliferation of Thursday availability — and the proliferation of football generally — does mean that you’re asking a lot from customers to watch Thursday. And then they watch a lot more college football games on Saturdays, and then on Sundays, and then on ‘Monday Night Football,’ etc. It’s a lot. So I do think that preserving the scarcity value of those events and that audience is something that is worth thinking about.”
The NFL’s players, meanwhile, have decried the fact that games played on Thursday do not give them enough time to recover from contests played just four days earlier. Plus, viewers have shied away from the less-than-stellar matchups that have been a hallmark of the package.