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Fox Bets Big on NFL With 5-Year Deal for Thursday Night Games

Fox Bets Big on NFL With 5-Year Deal for Thursday Night Games
(Wscott Mcgil/Dreamstime)

Wednesday, 31 January 2018 10:43 AM

21st Century Fox Inc. gave a major vote of confidence in the NFL’s ability to draw viewers even after two years of ratings slumps, signing an unprecedented five-year contract for the rights to “Thursday Night Football.”

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 better retain viewers. TV ratings fell 9.7 percent in the past regular season after an 8 percent drop the prior year.

Eleven games each season will be aired on the Fox broadcast network, which has also struggled in the ratings. Despite its shrinking audience, the NFL still provides some of the most-watched programming on television and will help Fox build a stronger prime-time lineup to compete with CBS and NBC, which aired “Thursday Night Football” last season.

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. 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 afternoon games to subscribers over a wider array of digital platforms, including mobile phones for the first time.

The games in Fox’s deal include weeks 4 through 15 on the NFL schedule and will be simulcast on NFL Network. The games will also be carried by a digital partner the league hasn’t yet picked. NFL Network will exclusively carry seven games next season so that it adheres to affiliate contracts. All of the games will be produced by Fox.

TV executives, including Fox Chief Executive Officer James Murdoch, have blamed the Thursday game for declines in viewership over the past couple seasons, arguing the market has become saturated, with other matchups airing on Sunday and Monday. The cost of rights has risen even as the audience for football on TV has shrunk. 

Fox agreed last month to sell cable channels FX and National Geographic, its movie and TV studio and international assets to Disney. If that deal gets approved by regulators, the new Fox will be much smaller, with broadcast, news and sports channels.

Amazon.com Inc. held the digital rights last season.

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21st Century Fox Inc. gave a major vote of confidence in the NFL’s ability to draw viewers even after two years of ratings slumps, signing an unprecedented five-year contract for the rights to “Thursday Night Football.”
fix, nfl, football, television
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2018-43-31
Wednesday, 31 January 2018 10:43 AM
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