The completion of the TV and streaming deals could be the final step for the NFL to put its 17-game regular season into effect beginning this year. The league and team owners have the right to implement the 17-game season as soon as 2021 under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement completed last year with the NFL Players Association.
The new deals would be long term and would keep much of the current NFL broadcasting landscape as is. Fox would retain the NFC Sunday afternoon package, CBS would keep the AFC Sunday afternoon games, NBC would keep “Sunday Night Football,” and Disney would retain “Monday Night Football” for ESPN and ABC.
The deals for CBS, Fox and NBC probably would be for 11 years each, and the Disney deal could span 12 years, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. Under that scenario, the deals would conclude the same year because ESPN’s current deal expires after the upcoming season while the others expire following the 2022 season.
The new Fox deal is expected to pay the NFL more than $2 billion annually, according to a person with knowledge of the deliberations. Fox’s current deal is estimated to be worth about $1.1 billion per year. The CBS and NBC deals also are expected to pay roughly double their current prices. Currently CBS is estimated to pay around $1 billion and NBC nearly $1 billion annually. Disney-owned ESPN currently pays nearly $2 billion for “Monday Night Football,” and its fee is expected to increase significantly, too.
The league did not respond in recent days to requests for comment. The NFL denied a report last week by the Sports Business Journal that the Disney deal was done, saying it would not comment further and did not intend to negotiate publicly through the media.
If the deal with Disney is completed, it could include participation in the Super Bowl rotation. It also could give ESPN and ABC a modest measure of scheduling flexibility with Monday night games, although that is not expected to be nearly as extensive as the provisions that enable the league and NBC to replace unappealing late-season Sunday night matchups with more attractive games on that week’s schedule.
Amazon is eager to obtain exclusive rights to some NFL games as part of its streaming-rights negotiations with the league, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions. The online commerce giant appears willing to meet a demand for a premium price if it believes that it is receiving premium content, according to that person.
The NFL had one game during the 2020 season — a Saturday game between the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals in December — available only on streaming platforms, including Amazon and Twitch. That game drew an estimated average per-minute audience of about 4.8 million viewers. As part of its current deal with the NFL, Amazon gets one exclusive game in each of the next two seasons.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.
The extent to which the NFL is willing to turn the “Thursday Night Football” package into an exclusive streaming event on Amazon has not been resolved, according to the person familiar with the negotiations. Some Thursday night games also could be televised on the NFL Network. Even if any games are given to Amazon without a national TV broadcast, they probably would be televised in the home markets of the participating teams.
If some of the games in the Thursday night package are available nationally only on Amazon, that would represent a major step for the NFL. It appears any wariness the league and owners might have about abandoning national TV for some games would be more than offset by a belief that, given the shifting media-consumption habits of particularly younger fans, such a move would be both justified and a sign of things to come in sports viewership.
DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket deal will not be addressed during this wave of negotiations, according to a person familiar with the situation. DirecTV pays the NFL $1.5 billion a year for Sunday Ticket. While the other packages are skyrocketing in value, it remains to be seen what kind of price the Sunday Ticket package will fetch.
The move to a 17-game season probably would be accompanied by a reduction of the preseason to three games. Multiple people familiar with the situation said in recent weeks that the owners and the league were attempting to complete arrangements to put the 17-game season into effect in 2021. The owners ratified a scheduling formula in December in which the additional game would be an out-of-conference matchup based on the divisional order of finish in the previous season. AFC teams and NFC teams are expected to alternate between having eight or nine home games in a given season.
The 17-game season, like the expanded playoffs that went into effect during the 2020 season, was designed by the owners to provide additional broadcasting inventory to boost revenue. The NFL is coming off a 2020 season in which revenue declined sharply because of games being played in empty and partially filled stadiums during the coronavirus pandemic.
The NFL and NFLPA agreed that the salary cap will be no lower than $180 million per team in 2021, down from $198.2 million per team in 2020. But it’s not down as much as it could have been if the league and union had not agreed to, in effect, borrow against future salary caps to keep the drop from being steeper rather than calculating the 2021 number based strictly on the previous year’s revenue, as would normally be the case. The new TV and streaming deals will boost future revenue and salary caps considerably.