Fox Broadcasting Co. and the National Football League have agreed to a five-year deal for Thursday night football games.
Those games previously were televised by CBS and NBC, two of the league's other network partners. But Fox announced Wednesday that it will televise 11 Thursday-night games annually from Week 4 to Week 15, with simulcasts on NFL Network and Fox Deportes. In Indianapolis, the affiliate for Fox is WXIN-TV Channel 59.
Fox, which also has the Sunday afternoon National Football Conference package, will produce all of the games.
"This is a single-partner deal, we are not splitting the package," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "We had tremendous amount of interest from all the broadcast partners, all of whom wanted it exclusively. We felt this was the best opportunity for the NFL to grow the Thursday night package."
Goodell added the league is exploring partnerships with digital outlets, also in conjunction with Fox.
The deal is a departure from the National Football League’s practice of awarding Thursday games one season at a time. Locking in a long-term partner helps the NFL ensure it has a steadfast ally while it works to retain viewers. TV ratings fell 9.7 percent in the past regular season after an 8 percent drop the prior year.
The NFL has broadcast deals "five years out" with its other partners — ESPN has the Monday night package — so five years on this agreement made sense.
"Fundamentally, Fox was built on football," said Peter Rice, the president of 21st Century Fox, noting that 25 years ago, the NFC package "helped launch a fledgling network into what it is today."
"These opportunities come along very, very infrequently," he added. "You either have the rights to the most-watched content in media or you don't. If you don't take the opportunity, this won't come up again for five years. We believe in buying the very best rights, and the best rights are the NFL."
The deal provides a sense of Fox’s strategic direction after a planned sale of assets to Walt Disney Co. for $52.4 billion. The Murdoch family, which runs the company, wants to prove to the market that it’s still very interested in sports, people familiar with the matter said.
Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, though Reuters pegged the value at more than $3 billion, citing people familiar with the matter. CBS and NBC paid a combined $450 million for 10 games last season, and Fox’s bid was higher this time around, people familiar with the matter said. The agreement also allows Fox to distribute its Thursday and Sunday games to subscribers over a wider array of digital platforms, including mobile phones for the first time.