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Fox Sports bolsters NFL portfolio with Thursday Night Football deal

The Fox Sports division of US network Fox has signed a five-season deal for rights to the Thursday Night Football package marketed by American football league the NFL.

The agreement will run from the 2018 season to 2022. Financial terms were not disclosed, but ESPN.com said Fox’s deal will be worth an average of more than $660m (€539.7m) per year.

The agreement sees Thursday Night Football move to a new home in the US on a long-term basis. The CBS and NBC networks had held the rights to the package for the past two seasons. The last annual agreement saw NBC and CBS broadcast five games each at a cost of $45m per game.

The new agreement awards Fox Sports with a package that includes 11 games between Weeks 4-15, excluding Thanksgiving night, to be broadcast on Fox, simulcast via the league-owned NFL Network, and distributed in Spanish on Fox Deportes. 

In addition, NFL Network will exclusively televise seven games next season, with Fox producing the full schedule of 18 games. Fox has been broadcasting NFC championship games on Sundays since 1994 and currently pays $1.1bn per year for these rights through the 2022 season.

Today’s announcement allows Fox Sports and the NFL to each expand its digital rights, enabling the network to distribute both Thursday Night Football and its Sunday games to Fox subscribers over a wide array of digital platforms including mobile phones for the first time. The agreement also allows the NFL to further develop digital distribution models for Thursday Night Football as well as Fox’s Sunday games.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement: “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.”

Peter Rice, president of 21st Century Fox, added: “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. 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.”

The TNF deal marks the fifth media rights contract between Fox Sports and the NFL dating back to the landmark agreement struck in December 1993 that essentially solidified Fox as a major broadcast network.

The NFL issued a request for proposal concerning its Thursday Night Football rights package last month, with the document reportedly outlining that a contract could be solely sealed by an online streaming provider for the first time.

The RFP was issued before Christmas, with the NFL seeking responses for a contract that would take effect from the 2018 season. The 2017 season has seen e-commerce and media company Amazon become a Thursday Night Football partner for the first time.

The Amazon Prime service has served as the NFL’s exclusive partner to deliver a live OTT digital stream of Thursday Night Football to a global audience across devices during the 2017 season.

Amazon Prime Video has streamed the 10 Thursday Night Football games broadcast by NBC and CBS, which were also simulcast on NFL Network, once again securing the league's tri-cast model of broadcast (NBC/CBS), cable (NFL Network), and digital (Amazon Prime Video) distribution.

ESPN.com added that Goodell stated digital rights for the 2018 season will be concluded in the next couple of weeks, in partnership with Fox, adding that the league has seen “unprecedented competition” in this area.