The NFL completed a new set of lucrative television and streaming deals Thursday that solidify the sport’s status as the most valuable property in television and are expected to result in a 17-game season being put into effect this fall.
The agreements will pay the league more than $110 billion in rights fees over 11 years and mark a significant shift toward distributing games through streaming. The league’s package of Thursday night games will be carried almost entirely on Amazon.
“We believe that we are incredibly well positioned, probably better than ever before, to grow our game and engage our fans in innovative ways,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “And these deals are the foundation to be able to do that.”
With the new broadcasting deals in place, it’s nearly certain that the owners will vote during a meeting scheduled for late March to ratify implementation of the 17-game schedule beginning in the 2021 season, according to two people familiar with the planning. The expansion from 16 to 17 games would be accompanied by a reduction of the preseason to three games.
The NFL announced that the deals will run from the 2023 season through the 2033 season. The league did not reveal financial terms, but a person familiar with the matter said the total value exceeds $110 billion. CBS retains the package of Sunday afternoon AFC games. Fox keeps NFC Sunday afternoon games. NBC retains “Sunday Night Football,” and Disney-owned ABC and ESPN keep “Monday Night Football.” ABC and ESPN move into the rotation to carry Super Bowls.
The league called Amazon the “exclusive home” of “Thursday Night Football” in what it described as its first all-digital package. Amazon Prime will carry 15 Thursday night games but will not have the season-opening game, which is traditionally on a Thursday night, or the Thanksgiving night game, according to a person with knowledge of the package. Thursday night games will be televised in the home markets of the two participating teams, according to two people familiar with the situation.
“Over the last five years, we’ve started the migration to streaming, and with today’s deals, we make another large step in that direction,” New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “Our fans want this option, and our media partners and the league understand that streaming is truly the future.”
The primary architects of the deals on the NFL side were Kraft, the chairman of the league’s media committee, and Goodell. They are said to have handled the negotiations almost exclusively. Kraft called the deals a “unique hybrid of traditional viewing options and streaming.” Goodell described the Amazon deal as “a seminal moment for the distribution of our content.”
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.
“We want to provide our fans more games on more platforms than ever before,” Goodell said in a conference call with reporters. “We think these deals achieve that.”
Amazon eventually could be given a first-round playoff game if the viewership is sufficient, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Completion of the broadcasting deals was viewed as a key step toward the NFL putting the 17-game season into effect. One person with knowledge of the deliberations said “it will be easily approved” by the owners if they vote on the change during this month’s remote meeting, while another person said ratification by the owners is a virtual certainty.
Each of the networks will pay a substantial increase in rights fees. Fox, CBS and NBC are set to spend around $2 billion annually, double their current amounts. Disney will pay the NFL about $2.7 billion per year for the Monday night package, up from around $2 billion a year.
“It’s a value proposition,” CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said. “The fact that it’s a long-term deal makes the dollars much more justifiable. If you look at the value it brings to ViacomCBS, whether it’s the advertising value or the promotional value or the streaming value, it pencils out pretty well for us. We’ve traditionally paid about this much in respect to increases in [our NFL deals], and the deals have always worked out for all for us. It is a lot of money, but it’s money well spent.”
ABC and ESPN will have Super Bowls in 2026 and 2030. CBS, Fox and NBC will have three Super Bowls each over the life of the new agreements. The NFL said there “will be an increased ability” for flexible scheduling for both Sunday night and Monday night games, allowing the league and the networks to replace any unattractive late-season matchups with more meaningful pairings.
In addition to the Super Bowls on ABC, Disney will get additional games that include three weeks per season with a separate Monday night game on ABC, and one international game each year will be exclusive to ESPN Plus. CBS, NBC and Amazon also will use the NFL to boost subscriptions to their streaming platforms. CBS and NBC will simulcast all of their games on Paramount Plus and Peacock, respectively, and like ESPN Plus, Peacock will have some exclusive games over the life of the deals, which means fans will have to subscribe to multiple direct-to-consumer services to watch every NFL game.
For months, the negotiations between the NFL and TV networks loomed over the sports and media industries. The amounts of the new deals highlight how precious the networks consider the league, which draws far higher viewing audiences than anything else on television.
There was no announcement from the league on the future of the Sunday Ticket package, currently owned by DirecTV. ESPN Plus and Peacock are thought to be favorites to land the rights to the full schedule of out-of-market games. ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro said Thursday that his network has had exploratory talks with the NFL about the package.
Goodell said that legalized sports betting also could be incorporated into future NFL broadcasts.
“We’re going to find ways in which we can engage fans through legalized sports betting,” Goodell said. “But we’ve retained those rights. And we’re going to look to see where those opportunities lie, how we will be working with our network partners.”