Friday, August 27, 2021

Broadcasters Betting On $105B NFL Payoff

America’s media giants in March hitched their wagons to the NFL for another decade. And reports Bloomberg, next month they’ll find out whether that $105 billion was money well spent.

The new NFL season, which begins Sept. 9, will provide a crucial stress test of the popularity of TV’s biggest attraction. Last year, NFL regular season viewership fell 7%, marking the first drop in three years. But it was hard to tell if fewer people watched because of declining interest in the sport or due to COVID-related disruptions including an unusually crowded sports calendar, games played without fans and players sidelined by the coronavirus.

Now, CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN and Inc. will get a clearer picture of what they will be paying for through 2033: an entertainment property largely immune to the pressures facing the rest of TV or one that’s also starting to slip.

“The first four weeks of the season will be very telling,” said Patrick Crakes, a consultant and former Fox Sports executive. “If the NFL ratings are flat and everything else on TV is down 20% that will justify the investments they made.”

Hans Schroeder, executive VP of NFL Media, said it wasn’t unusual for NFL ratings to dip during an election year, like 2020. He expects viewership to be strong this season, citing higher preseason ratings, intriguing matchups between high-profile teams and the return of fans to stadiums.

NFL broadcasters will experiment this season with new formats and distribution. ESPN is enlisting former NFL quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Eli Manning to take part in an alternate, fraternal Monday Night Football telecast. For the first time, NBC will stream Sunday night games on Peacock, and the online service will air a new postgame show afterward. It will be the last season that Amazon shares Thursday night broadcasts with Fox and the NFL Network before it takes over the exclusive rights in 2022.

Anxious sports broadcasters will be looking to the NFL for some reassurance. Major sporting events are drawing more viewers this year than in 2020. But, for the most part, the ratings are down significantly from pre-pandemic times. Compared with 2019, the NBA playoffs fell 18%, the March Madness final declined 14% and the final round of the Masters golf tournament dropped 13%. The Summer Olympics viewership slumped to its lowest mark in over 30 years. The NHL regular season sank to its smallest audience in at least a decade, and the Super Bowl fell to its lowest level since 2007.

This year’s NFL ratings could determine how much media and tech giants are willing to pay for a separate package of games known as NFL Sunday Ticket. The rights to those games could leave DirecTV when its contract expires at the end of next season. The bidding process is set to begin in the coming months, with Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN, Amazon and Apple Inc. seen as potential buyers.

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