The NFL is on its way to a milestone among the major sports by pulling off a full season despite the pandemic. Fans of the Kansas City Chiefs are understandably giddy about a potential return to the Super Bowl. Week 15 games involving the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints may shed light on who else might be destined to extend their football season to Super Bowl 55 in Tampa.
But as the NFL moves closer to finalizing its TV strategy for the next decade or more, fans of every team should be feeling restless. Roger Goodell could wreck their plans on short notice.
The NFL and the networks are closing in on a new deal
The American networks fight hard for a piece of the action every time the NFL puts its television packages up for bids. The reason is simple: ratings. Sunday Night Football and Thursday Night Football consistently finish in the top 10 for the year in the primetime ratings data compiled by Nielsen Media Research. Sunday afternoon and Monday night games do well in their time slots, too, reaping tidy sums for the networks.
The 2020 season has been one of the most challenging ever. Dealing with the pandemic has required the NFL to change schedules on almost a weekly basis, and season-long ratings will show a decline from last year. The timing is unfortunate for commissioner Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners because ESPN’s Monday Night Football contract expires next season, and all the other major deals except Thursday Night Football expire the following year. That means that negotiations are taking place now.
Together, the key TV deals generate close to $8 billion of the nearly $10 billion a year the NFL takes in from broadcasting, according to the New York Post. The next set of contracts should blow those numbers out of the water.
Owners have a $100 billion plan for their future
New York Post reporter Andrew Marchand, who regularly scores scoops on news about sports on TV, says NFL owners are contemplating extending the length of its next batch of TV contracts to 10 years with a total value that could “far exceed” $100 billion.
Most of what football fans are used to seeing on TV apparently won’t change. The report says CBS and Fox would keep their Sunday afternoon packages, NBC would continue showing Sunday Night Football, and ESPN would retain Monday Night Football. The minor twist to all that appears to be that ABC might carry more of the ESPN games on Monday if the lineup of games is attractive enough.
To keep the four major networks happy, each would get to show two Super Bowls. Adding a bit of intrigue, Marchand reported that the remaining two Super Bowls in the proposed 10-year package could be auctioned off to the highest bidder at a later date.
The NFL’s $100 billion plan contains bad news for fans
The potential NFL television plan for the next decade does contain two potential changes that won’t please football fans.
First, according to the newspaper report, it sounds like none of the networks are keen on carrying Thursday Night Football. Fox, NFL Network, and Amazon Prime currently share the Thursday deal. At a cost of $660 million a year, according to SportsPro Media, the package isn’t profitable enough without exclusivity.
That means that Amazon Prime could swoop in and take all the Thursday night games. In doing so, it would require fans to subscribe to the Amazon service to see them. The exception might be for fans in the markets of the teams playing that night.
The second piece of potentially bad news involves Monday Night Football. ABC and ESPN reportedly want the ability to flex some late-season games. While that sounds great for TV viewers, who could get to see a game with playoff implications rather than two 5-9 teams squaring off, it’s disruptive for fans holding tickets.
With only one Monday night game a week on the schedule, flexing would require moving a Sunday game back a day to replace what was scheduled. Fans with tickets to what was originally a 1 p.m. game on Sunday could find the switch to Monday night very inconvenient, especially if they have long drives to and from the game.
That has the potential for poorly rested employees showing up for work on Tuesday morning.