Fox may drop Thursday Night Football

The network may focus its financial efforts on Sunday afternoon games instead, an executive said.
(Image: Fox Corporation/Graphic: The Desk)

A Fox executive says the broadcast network may drop its Thursday evening football telecasts if the company is forced to choose between those games and ones broadcast regionally on Sunday afternoons.

Speaking at a virtual technology and media conference on Tuesday, Fox’s chief financial officer Steve Tomsic said the backbone of the broadcast network was built on the Sunday afternoon telecasts.

The National Football League is currently in negotiations with Fox and several other broadcasters for long-term contracts over its Sunday afternoon, Sunday evening, Monday night and Thursday night games. Television and digital distribution rights are held by Fox Corporation, ViacomCBS, Comcast’s NBC Universal and ESPN.

ESPN, which is jointly owned by the Walt Disney Company and Hearst Communications, has broadcast rights to Monday Night Football games through the end of the next football season. The other three broadcasters have television rights through the end of the 2022 season.

Entertainment trade publication Variety said on Tuesday that ViacomCBS, Comcast and Fox Corporation are believed to be paying a combined $3.1 billion every year for Sunday afternoon and evening games across their networks. That’s a significant increase from what the NFL was charging under the last contract, which Variety said was around $1.94 billion per year, though the price may have been adjusted to allow the networks to offer viewers access to the games on digital platforms.

ESPN is also paying more for its Monday Night Football telecasts, with Variety saying its current contract is around $2 billion per year, and increase from just over $1 billion in its previous contract.

Thursday Night Football games have drawn an audience, but networks in the past have struggled to monetize the games. ViacomCBS and Comcast both abandoned their attempts to secure a new contract for the games after finding Thursday night lineups were not as compelling compared to the rest of the week, particularly the Sunday afternoon and evening games.

Fox swooped up the rights in 2018. Critics argued that Fox overpaid, but the network appeared satisfy with the deal as it sought to increase its live programming roster after agreeing to sell its film and TV studio properties (and several general entertainment cable channels) to Disney that same year.

Tomsic’s suggestion that Fox may part with the telecasts suggests that the network may not have realized a return on its multi-billion dollar investment after all. If the NFL continues to demand more money for broadcast rights, the network may abandon any aspiration of renewing its deal for the Thursday games and instead concentrate its efforts on Sunday afternoon games.

Negotiations between broadcasters and the NFL are still ongoing, Tomsic said.

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