The SportsBusiness Journal and USAToday report Fox has outbid both CBS and NBC for the upcoming new rights agreement for the NFL’s Thursday Night Football (TNF) franchise. Notables dropping out of the race include Facebook as well as Disney/ESPN, the latter still coming to terms with the less than stellar matchups now featured on Monday Night Football. No mention of Amazon, which was also expected to be a player in the bidding.
As in the articles, the move makes perfect sense for the “new Fox.” Rupert Murdoch pulled the trigger on the Disney deal to give up his cable entertainment networks – but keep his national sports and news networks – because he believes live news and sports are among the few content genres that minimize and mitigate time-shifting viewers.
The NFL would provide a shot in the arm for the FS1 sports network, lost among the alphabet soup of sports networks like NBCSN, CBS SN, SEC, BTN, YES, NESN, etc – plus don’t forget its even less known sister network FS2. Thursday Night Football and its related shoulder programming, spread across Fox broadcast and FS1/FS2, would help build up the latter into better known sports destinations.
Unlike an Amazon, Fox is a known quantity when it comes to NFL coverage, having been in the business for two decades. And CBS has shown it’s possible to integrate a Thursday night game with their regular Sunday game commitments. However, will the ongoing relationship and experience with NBC/CBS on TNF be too advantageous to pass up for the NFL, even if it leaves a little money on the table?
Who will win the TNF rights matchup? Rights battles are always an interesting bellwether for the sports economy. And despite the gloom-and-doom about NFL ratings in recent seasons, don’t be surprised to see the NFL’s total take for TNF increase between “traditional” and digital media partners. It’s like when your favorite player leaves your favorite team in free agency and says “It wasn’t about the money”… guess what, it’s ALWAYS about the money.
David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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