The N.F.L. signed new media rights agreements with CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN and Amazon collectively worth about $110 billion over 11 years, nearly doubling the value of its previous contracts.
The contracts, which will take effect in 2023 and run through the 2033 season, will cement the N.F.L.’s status as the country’s most lucrative sports league. They will also set the stage for the league’s owners to make good on plans to expand the regular season to include a 17th game and charge more for broadcasting rights.
The league’s soaring revenues will aid far-reaching plans for the next decade, a period when team owners hope to expand the N.F.L.’s already robust calendar, make deeper inroads into overseas markets and increase the football audience via streaming services. The N.F.L. is poised to more than recoup the roughly $4 billion in losses wrought by not having maximum capacity attendance at games in 2020.
“Along with our recently completed labor agreement with the N.F.L.P.A., these distribution agreements bring an unprecedented era of stability to the League and will permit us to continue to grow and improve our game,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
According to four people familiar with the agreements who requested anonymity because they were not authorized by the N.F.L. to speak publicly about the deals, CBS, Fox and NBC will pay more than $2 billion each to hold onto their slots, with NBC paying slightly less than CBS and Fox. ESPN will pay about $2.7 billion a year to continue airing Monday Night Football, but also to be added into the rotation to broadcast the Super Bowl beginning in 2026. The agreement with ESPN starts one year earlier, in 2022, because its current contract expires one year earlier than the others.
Each of the broadcasters’ deals include agreements for their respective streaming platforms, while Amazon will show Thursday night games on its Amazon Prime Video service.
“Over the last five years, we started the migration to streaming. Our fans want this option, and the league understands that streaming is the future,” said Robert K. Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and chairman of the N.F.L.’s media committee.
The N.F.L. has not yet announced who will broadcast Sunday Ticket, a subscription service that lets fans watch out-of-market weekend games that are not broadcast nationally. DirecTV has the rights to that service through 2022.
The jump in revenue will not initially change the fortunes of players, who are locked into a 10-year collective bargaining agreement narrowly ratified in March 2020. Under the terms of that labor deal, players will see a bump in their share of the N.F.L.’s revenue, up to 48.5 percent from 47, while team owners negotiated the option to add a 17th game to the regular season schedule in 2021, something players had long opposed.
It will be the first major expansion to the N.F.L. season in more than four decades, when teams began playing 16 games, up from 14, in 1978.
Player salaries in the next few years will rise moderately because most media agreements are graduated, with the first year of a new deal worth only marginally more than the last year of an expiring deal.
N.F.L. team owners are expected to formally approve the additional game at their annual meeting in late March, when there is likely to be little dissent. Once the additional game is approved, players and team owners will work out the calendar logistics, which could include eliminating one of the four preseason games teams are required to play and adding a second bye week to each of the 32 team schedules.
Many other competitive issues will also have to be resolved, as extending the regular season by one game could also affect other fixtures in the N.F.L. calendar that were adjusted last season because of the coronavirus pandemic. The owners voted on Dec. 16 to make the extra game an interconference matchup so as to not affect playoff tiebreakers. But still unresolved are the timing of off-season workouts, the start dates of training camps and the regular season’s start and end dates.
The league was able to fully complete its 2020 season on schedule in part because it worked hand-in-hand with the N.F.L. Players Association to hammer out Covid-19 protocols and a raft of other rules.
The union’s executive director, DeMaurice Smith, has said that no decision would be made “without an eye to what we’ve learned this year.” “March and April of 2021 is not going to look like March and April of 2018 and 2019,” he added.
The labor deal also included an expanded playoff format, with an extra team added in each conference, more limited training camps and a relaxation of the rules governing the use of marijuana.
Many players initially balked at the idea of a longer regular season, which they said increased their chances of injury. But the team owners were eager to expand the regular season as a way to entice the league’s national television partners to pay more for broadcast rights.
All of the N.F.L.’s national media agreements — which together have an average annual value of nearly $8 billion — were set to expire over the next two years. ESPN’s deal to show Monday night games was scheduled to end after the 2021 season, while agreements with CBS, Fox, NBC, DirecTV, Verizon and Amazon were in place through the 2022 season.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, many television and digital media executives said the N.F.L. had the upper hand in negotiating major increases in rights fees because the league had a long-term labor deal in place and because its programming took less of a ratings hit than other broadcasts of U.S.-based sports during the pandemic. Ratings for regular season football fell just 7 percent, compared to 20 percent for prime time broadcast television and even larger declines for other marquee sports events like the Masters, the N.B.A. finals and the Stanley Cup finals.
N.F.L. games are also the most watched programming on television by far, making up 76 of the 100 most watched television programs in 2020.
Other leagues have also signed new agreements with big increases during the pandemic. The Southeastern Conference received nearly a sixfold increase in money for its marquee college football games, while the N.H.L. will almost assuredly see its media payments double when it finishes selling its rights.