A few thoughts on the new $110 billion NFL broadcast rights deals while wondering if the grievance-addicted Fox News crowd still believes players’ protests of police brutality four years ago negatively affected the league in any way . . .
▪ Disney-owned ESPN and ABC pay the highest annual rate in the deals at $2.8 billion, but I thought they made out especially well in terms of added benefits and content. Not surprisingly, so did Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of ESPN and sports content.
“First, Super Bowls are back,’’ said Pitaro during a call with reporters Thursday night. “We’ve also secured direct-to-consumer rights and content, including exclusive national games for ESPN+. We have 35 percent more regular-season games [a total of 23], including end-of-season games with significant playoff implications, plus additional playoff matchups, a better schedule, increased flexibility, and, of course, vast highlight rights.”
▪ The biggest deal concerns Super Bowls. ABC hasn’t been in the rotation since 2006. In the new deals, which carry through 2033, ABC gets the Super Bowls for the 2026 and 2030 seasons.
▪ But ESPN also gained benefits that will have a more immediate effect. It gets to stream one exclusive national game annually on ESPN+ beginning with the 2021 season. But the real jackpot for ESPN — and “Monday Night Football” in particular — is the league’s decision to expand flex scheduling from Week 12 and beyond. “Monday Night Football” has been a lesser priority in recent seasons when it came to assigning appealing matchups. Now it is almost certain to have a strong slate of games late in the season.
“In the full suite of rights that we acquired, it was a critical component,’’ said Burke Magnus, ESPN executive vice president of programming and original content. “I mean, when you’re on Monday, especially late in the season, when the schedule is built in advance, obviously from time to time there’s been games that haven’t had the stakes that you would want in order to drive audience. This is all within the NFL’s control. They’ve done it successfully on Sunday [by flexing high-interest games onto NBC’s ‘Sunday Night Football’]. We believe that our interests are aligned, obviously, as it relates to Monday late-season games, making sure that each of the games lives up to the national designation, and so it was really important.”
▪ There won’t be much change, nor should there have been, to NBC’s portion of the deal, with the network paying $2.2 billion per year to retain its extraordinarily successful “Sunday Night Football” package, which has been the most-watched prime-time program on television for 10 consecutive seasons. NBC also added some streaming rights for its Peacock service, including exclusive rights to one NFL game each year from 2023-28.
▪ There was one footnote in the deal that should be of particular interest to NFL Films junkies. Peacock now has the rights to launch its own NFL channel, featuring classic games and NFL Films’ series, library, and archival content, such as the “A Football Life” documentary series, Super Bowl films, and much more. This is a treasure trove, and hopefully it includes plenty of the vintage films produced by Ed and Steve Sabol. Frankly, we all need more “Football Follies” in our lives.
▪ There have been recurring rumors that DirecTV’s “NFL Sunday Ticket” will become an ESPN property, but nothing has been confirmed. Pitaro did say ESPN has had discussions about adding the package, but nothing more than that for now.
▪ Fox will pay $2.25 billion per year to maintain the NFC Sunday afternoon package, while CBS will pay slightly less — $2.1 billion — for the AFC games. One reason for the difference in cost? There is an AFC and an NFC team for the top television market (New York), but the next six largest markets after that are homes to NFC teams. Houston is the eight-largest market, per Nielsen, while Boston is ninth.
▪ It’s getting easier and easier to sympathize with decisions sports fans that don’t have unlimited means have to make. YouTube TV has jacked up its prices and no longer has NESN. If you subscribe to fuboTV for NESN, you don’t get the Turner channels, meaning you’re missing a bunch of NBA games, as well as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. And now the new NFL rights deals include streaming options for Peacock (NBC), ESPN+, Amazon Prime (for “Thursday Night Football”), and Tubi (for Fox Sports). The more that streaming rights get spread around, the more either/or choices sports fans will have to make.
Choosing their words
Odd line about Hunter Henry in the Patriots’ news release Friday announcing the signing of 10 free agents: “He started in the 2018 AFC Divisional Playoff when the Chargers played the Patriots at Gillette Stadium and did not accrue any statistics.” In other words, “We stopped him and now we signed him.” . . . Amina Smith made a good first impression in her NBC Sports Boston debut Thursday hosting “Celtics Post Up,” showing an engaging camera presence. But let’s hope that her arrival doesn’t mean the network will move on from Abby Chin at season’s end. She is under contract for just this season. Chin has done an excellent job moving from the sideline to studio hosting duties this season, all while navigating Brian Scalabrine’s attempts at humor that too often come across as condescending . . . Curt Schilling is leaving town. Ellis Burks and Mo Vaughn are coming back to be part of NESN’s Red Sox broadcast team this year. Big win for Boston. Big, big win for Boston.