Fox Outbids CBS and NBC for Thursday Night Football, ABC/ESPN No Bid, But Questions Remain

Ryan Glasspiegel

Fox has submitted a higher bid for the next NFL Thursday Night Football package than CBS and NBC, while ESPN/ABC surprisingly opted not to bid, John Ourand reports for SBJ. Turner, whose parent company is tied up in the regulatory process over a proposed merger with AT&T, also did not submit a bid.

Ourand notes that CBS and NBC openly acknowledge they are losing money on the package, and submitted bids that totaled less than the combined $450 million a year they are currently paying, while Fox’s bid represented an increase.

Nevertheless, there are still a lot of questions about where we go from here. Was Fox’s bid big enough that it justifies the NFL disrupting continuity and changing Thursday night partners? Would Fox get half the rights and one of the other networks get the other half, or would Fox get the whole package? Will FS1 come into play at all, and if so what does that say about the future of simulcasting the games on NFL Network?

From a logical perspective, the Thursday night package makes much more sense for Fox than CBS and NBC, whose non-sports primetime programming currently perform better in the ratings. Fox is also a much leaner company now. After selling off over $60 billion in assets to Disney, including the wildly profitable regional sports networks, Fox is laser-focused on being a purveyor of live national sports and news.

But, another question for Fox would be the duration of the deal for the purposes of retransmission and reverse retrans fees, i.e. what they charge network distributors and non-owned affiliates for carriage. To maximize benefit from these aspects, Fox would in theory want a deal longer than just a couple years.

There is a lot of rightful bagging on the quality and injury risk inherent in Thursday Night Football, and it remains bizarre that the NFL does not get together with the players and negotiate an 18-week season with two byes per team. This would a) improve the quality of Thursday nights with teams coming off byes, and b) presumably grow the money pie on the basis of having better Thursday nights and an extra week of football. While this would further dilute Sunday afternoon slates, it’s hard to argue it wouldn’t be for the greater good of everybody — fans, players, owners, and TV networks — involved.