NFL, networks win in extended rights deal
CBS, Fox and NBC will part with a combined $3 billion annually
NBC Sports Network will debut a morning pregame show
CBS and Fox will now air games from AFC and NFC, respecively
If you are looking to determine the winners and losers from Wednesday's announcement that the NFL had extended television deals with CBS, Fox and NBC, we'll make it easy for you:
Let's start with the NFL: CBS, Fox and NBC will part with a combined $3 billion annually to televise NFL football through the 2022 season. The nine-year agreements are the longest NFL television deals with its over-the-air broadcast partners, surpassing the eight-year deals signed with CBS, FOX and ABC in 1998.
The new deals commence with the 2014 season, and given the popularity of the league -- game broadcasts accounted for 23 of the 25 most-watched shows on television this fall -- the networks were more than happy to part with the coin. "Starting in early September through the second week in February, in many ways, the NFL is the dominant programming on TV," said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. "To try to live without it as a sports division or a network was something none of us wanted to anticipate."
The Sports Business Journal's John Ourand reported CBS's average payments will jump to $1 billion a year, a 55 percent increase from the previous deal. Fox's average rights fees jump to $1.1 billion a year -- a 48 percent increase -- and NBC's rights fees will increase to $950 million per year, a 58 percent increase.
The new agreement has some significant developments for viewers. Among them:
CBS remains the broadcast home of the AFC, whose rights it has held since 1998. In addition, as part of the NFL's expanded flexible scheduling, CBS will now have the ability to broadcast selected games from the NFC package, the first time CBS will broadcast AFC and NFC matchups in the same season. Fox will also broadcast some games from the AFC. Details of how this "cross-flexing" will work has not been announced, but the likelihood is certain games going to a small percentage of the country will switch networks for a bigger audience.
"The addition of the NFC games is terrific for us," McManus told SI.com. "Those games have not been determined. It will be up to the NFL, but our anticipation is they will be good games that will improve the overall CBS schedule. From CBS's perspective, it means significant NFC games that have not been available to CBS in the past will now be available to us. That's of great benefits in terms of increasing our ratings."
Additionally, CBS will broadcast Super Bowl L in 2016, Super Bowl LIII in 2019 and Super Bowl LVI in 2022, along with Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans in 2013.
Fox remains the network home of the NFC regular-season package, and the new extension gives it the postseason rights to the NFC wild-card games, divisional playoff games, the NFC Championship Game and three Super Bowls (LI, LIV & LVII). The new deal also includes "TV everywhere" rights, which enables FOX to offer games it broadcasts and other NFL on FOX related content on FOXSports.com, tablets and other digital platforms, excluding mobile phones.
Regarding the cross-flex scheduling, Fox Sports president Eric Shanks told SI.com he did not think the flexing would have a great impact on his network. "It's capped at a small number of games, which will be determined when the schedule comes out," Shanks said. "I think what will happen is we [Fox] will give as good as we get. It's not like games come out of the NFC package and you never get anything back. You are going to get as many games as you give. It's hard to even imagine saying this but I think the cross-flex will increase the Gross Rating Points of the NFL and I think it will help everyone."
NBC will broadcast 19 regular-season games, including 17 regular-season Sunday Night Football games, each season's opening NFL Kickoff Thursday night prime time game and the new Thanksgiving night game, which debuts in 2012. (The NFL Network formerly held that game.) NBC also exchanged one of its current wild-card games for a divisional playoff game. It also gained Spanish language rights for its games to be shown on Telemundo, mun2 or with an SAP feed. As for the title game, NBC will broadcast the 2015, 2018 and 2021 Super Bowls.
Worth noting is the network will add a Sunday morning pregame show on the NBC Sports Network (currently VERSUS), giving ESPN and the NFL Network a competitor. USA Today reported NBC will also have opportunities earlier in the season to flex a Sunday afternoon game into its primetime slot.
Three months ago, ESPN and the NFL reached an eight-year extension to keep Monday Night Football on ESPN through the 2021 season. The Sports Business Journal reported the rights agreement (which included additional content rights) was worth $1.9 billion per year, a 63 percent increase over the average price of the current deal. Wednesday's announcement now opens the possibility of ESPN grabbing a wild-card game with NBC's exchange of a wild card for divisional game. Two industry sources expected ESPN to land that game, and it likely would pay an additional fee (think major millions) for the rights to air it. Said an ESPN spokesperson: "The NFL has the option to air a postseason wild-card playoff game on ESPN, should the league decide to do so. No decision has been made."
As for the NFL Network, the league-owned entity will expand the number of games it airs on Thursday beginning next year. The NFL has not yet announced how many games it will add, but two to four games is not out of the question. Of the 17 NFL regular-season weeks, there are eight Thursday night games.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told SI.com's Peter King last month the Thursday night package could expand "into a new network or a different package with another partner." Asked what network would be the favorite for that package -- NBC Sports Network and Turner are the networks most often cited -- Fox's Shanks said there were too many variables to handicap things at the moment.
"I don't think the NFL knows yet what that package is," Shanks said. "Is it an eight-game package, is it 12, is it 14 games? And if it's eight, where does it line up? Is a baseball [TV] deal going to get done or does a NASCAR [rights] deal get done before the Thursday night deal gets done? I think there are too many variables to figure out who is going to need what and who has already spent what by the time the Thursday package gets out to market."