The NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” will have a new home next season.
Fox will host 11 Thursday night NFL games in Weeks 4-15, sharing the rights with the NFL Network and a digital partner.
The deal, announced Wednesday, runs from the 2018 NFL season through 2022 and is reportedly worth more than $3 billion over those five years.
The digital rights, last held by Amazon, are still up for sale.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Peter Rice, president of 21st Century Fox, made the announcement together.
“This agreement is the culmination of over 10 years of strategic growth around Thursday Night Football, a period during which this property has grown from a handful of late season games on NFL Network to a full season of games and one of the most popular shows on broadcast television with additional distribution via cable and digital channels,” said Goodell in a statement. “As one of the leaders in sports television and a recognized innovator of NFL game broadcasts for many years, we’re excited to be extending our partnership with FOX Sports, one of our most trusted and valued partners, to include Thursday Night Football.”
Fox reportedly agreed to pay more than $60 million per game and $660 million per year for the right to air NFL games on Thursday night; CBS and NBC paid a combined $450 million to air 10 games last year.
According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, that means Fox will pay the NFL $1.75 billion per year, on average, for the rights to “Thursday Night Football” and the NFC Sunday package through the 2022 season.
“Football is in our blood at Fox and we understand that nothing beats the NFL when it comes to television that captures people’s attention,” Rice said in a statement. “Our historic relationship with the NFL dates back to the earliest days of Fox, and we couldn’t be more excited to expand our deep and enduring partnership to include prime-time games on Thursday night.”
Even though NFL ratings were down 9.7 percent this season, eight of the top 10 telecasts in 2017 were NFL games, and Fox paid up accordingly.
Players complain about Thursday Night Football, but the players get 55% of the $660 million a year that FOX will pay for TNF. That adds an extra $11 million per team per year to the payroll. Anyone seriously think if the players voted on TNF, they'd vote to turn that money down?
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) January 31, 2018
The network aired “Gotham” and “The Orville” on Thursday nights this past fall, but the ratings of those shows paled in comparison with those put up by pro football games.
Adding “Thursday Night Football” to its weekly programming will be a major boost for Fox, which ranks last among the broadcast networks in total audience.
“TNF” has come under heavy scrutiny over the last few seasons. NFL players are concerned that the Thursday night games do not give them enough time to recover from contests played just four days earlier, and many viewers have voiced their displeasure over the less-than-stellar matchups that are often scheduled for the package. Fox CEO James Murdoch even expressed his concern about the oversaturation of televised football back in October.
According to Sporting News’ Michael McCarthy, Fox doesn’t want to use its No. 1 broadcast team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to call the Thursday night games.
“That might open the door for the current No. 2 announce team of Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis and Pam Oliver to call the Thursday prime time games,” McCarthy wrote. “Or Fox could try to make a splashy outside hire by bringing in a newcomer like retired Cardinals coach Bruce Arians.”
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