The NFL’s biggest game of the year is this Sunday on NBC, but starting next season Thursday Night Football will have a new home at Fox.
Today, Fox Sports announced its new five-year deal with the NFL for television rights to 11 regular-season Thursday night games per year, starting in the fall with the upcoming 2018 season. Thursday Night Football previously aired on both NBC and CBS, with the two rival networks splitting a 10-game package each of the past two seasons as part of a deal that reportedly cost them a total of $450 million annually. (NBC will continue to air NFL games on Thanksgiving Thursday as part of a separate rights deal.) On Wednesday, ESPN reported that Fox’s deal with the NFL is worth more than $660 million per year.
For Fox, the deal brings even more NFL games under the network’s umbrella, with Fox broadcasting a full slate of games every Sunday of the NFL season (as does CBS). The deal comes at a time when Fox’s broadcast network is getting ready to separate from a wide variety of other entertainment assets currently owned by parent company 21st Century Fox, the bulk of which are in the process of being sold to Walt Disney. The FOX network will be spun off into a new company along with assets like Fox News, Fox Business and sports networks FS1 and FS2, which gives the network a reason to bulk up with additional live programming and more NFL games.
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“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,” Peter Rice, the president of 21st Century Fox, 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 primetime games on Thursday night.”
NFL ratings declined nearly 10% in 2017, marking the second straight year ratings dropped, with the average weekly viewers for Thursday Night Football reportedly dropping to 10.9 million from 2016’s 12.4 million. Despite the ratings dip, Nielsen data recently showed that NFL games contributed 20 of the top 30 highest-rated TV programs of 2017.
And, NFL game rights seem to remain sought after assets, particularly on the digital side, with Amazon paying $50 million for streaming rights to Thursday night games in 2017, a year after those games streamed on Twitter. The NFL has yet to sell streaming rights for Thursday Night Football during the upcoming season, though Fox’s deal allows the network to stream its Thursday and Sunday games to Fox subscribers on various digital platforms, including mobile devices. The NFL told reporters on Wednesday that the league will work with Fox to find a digital partner for next season.