The NFL is about to cash in, again.
Peter King explains in his latest Football Morning in America column that the NFL is “within a month” of finalizing 10-year TV deals. Those packages “could result in an aggregate increase of 70 to 100 percent increase in rights fees from the last contract.”
Jabari Young of CNBC recently reported that the frameworks for the deals could be finalized before the setting of the 2021 salary cap, a signal that some of the money to be earned in the TV deals could be shifted to pump the spending limit for the coming season above the expected figure of $180 million, which would represent a pandemic-fueled drop of $18.2 million from 2020.
The TV deals are expected to largely remain with their current networks; Young’s report pegged the Sunday packages on CBS, FOX, and NBC as staying in place. Both Young and King note that the Thursday and Monday night rights continue to be in flux.
King calls Amazon the favorite for Thursday Night Football, a dramatic change in the footprint for the late-week prime-time game. Without a three-letter network broadcasting the game (several Thursday night games are NFLN only, boosting the subscription fees for the league-owned network), the viewership necessarily would drop. The cash could remain consistent, or potentially grow, as Amazon deepens its relationship with the NFL and possibly sets the stage for a much bigger piece of the rights puzzle the next time around.
Balancing out the reduced profile of Thursday night could be an increased profile for Monday night, with ESPN (described by Young last week as the “wild card” in the process) keeping Monday Night Football and, per King, simulcasting the game on ABC. King also mentions the possibility of a late-season flex option for Mondays, with a weak game (due to poor season-to-date performance from one or both of the teams) being swapped out for a Sunday game.
Moving games from Monday to Sunday and Sunday to Monday continues to present significant logistical problems for teams, networks, and fans, however. A better option, in our view, would be to schedule multiple Monday doubleheaders, with the ability to flip-flop the two games. The lesser game would then be an ESPN-only production in the early window, with the better game landing on ABC, and thus drawing the larger audience.
With the Monday night package expiring after 2021 and the rest of the deals running through 2022, things quickly could get interesting for ESPN and/or ABC. Last week, Disney CEO Bob Chapek suggested that the perception ESPN/ABC will break the bank for NFL programming could be misplaced.
“We’ve had a long relationship with the NFL,” Chapek said during a quarterly earnings call. “If there’s a deal that will be accretive to shareholder value will certainly entertain that and look at that. Our first [priority] will be to look and say ‘Does it make sense for shareholder value going forward?'”
However it all plays out, the pieces seem to be coming together. And the dollars will continue to flow for the NFL via a configuration of broadcasting arrangements that likely will, for the rest of the decade, largely look the same as they have for the past 15 years. By 2031, however, another decade of shifts and changes in the way Americans consume video content could result in a much different landscape for the broadcasting of NFL games.