Twenty-First Century Fox won the rights to the NFL's Thursday Night Football for the next five years, but it had to pay up for it. The deal is valued at $3.3 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal, which comes to about $60 million per game. That's a big jump from the $40 million CBS and NBC spent per game last year.
Fox isn't the only one willing to pay more for NFL rights. Amazon, Alphabet's YouTube, Verizon, and Twitter are all bidding on the digital streaming rights for Thursday Night Football. Twitter paid $10 million for those rights in 2016, and Amazon paid $50 million for them in 2017. Those companies have offered "hundreds of millions of dollars" for multiyear streaming rights, according to Bloomberg, and the winning bidder will probably spend more than Amazon did last year.
Bids for the NFL's content are climbing despite the fact that the league saw its TV ratings fall roughly 10% last year. Amazon said its streaming broadcasts reached an average of 310,000 viewers, which didn't exactly make it the most popular asset on its streaming video service. So, why is the price still increasing for the NFL?
"You either have the most watched content on television, or you don't"
In an interview at Code Media, Fox Networks CEO Peter Rice told the audience Fox didn't overpay for rights because the NFL is still extremely popular. "You either have the most watched content on television, or you don't have it," he told Julia Boorstein.
Indeed, Fox has struggled to win viewers in prime time, especially Thursday nights, where it falls behind other scripted series from ABC, NBC, and CBS. Thursday Night Football (TNF), despite its relative decline, still manages to top the ratings in its time slot regardless of whatever else might be on. TNF averaged 14 million viewers per game in 2017 and it was the No. 2 show on television after Sunday Night Football.
"In terms of what's valuable in the TV ecosystem for advertisers, having this type of unduplicated live reach is why the dollars have not come out of TV yet," analyst Michael Nathanson said at the conference. In fact, the top 50 broadcasts last year included no scripted content at all.
So, if Fox wants to compete (or just survive), especially as it becomes a smaller company in the future, it needs big live broadcast rights like the NFL. It's willing to pay a premium for that even as the NFL ratings decline.