NFL Exploring Exit from Sunday Ticket Pact with DirecTV

DirecTV

The NFL is exploring the possibility of exercising an exit clause in their pact with DirecTV, a move that would revoke the satellite provider’s exclusive rights to broadcast Sunday Ticket (i.e. all out of market games) at the completion of the 2019 season. The current contract (signed in ’14) calls for DirecTV to pay the league $1.5 million/year through ’22. If the league opts out of the current agreement, many believe it could package satellite rights with global streaming rights and continue to grow the revenue pie. Sunday Ticket has never had another home, DirecTV has held the NFL’s satellite rights since 1994.

Howie Long-Short: Should the NFL opt out of the existing agreement, it’s feasible a technology player like Google or Amazon could win the rights; Google previously bid on the rights to NFL Sunday Ticket. Considering neither company has satellite capabilities, if one of the tech giants were to acquire exclusive rights, it’s more than likely they would carve out the satellite broadcast rights and re-sell them.

NFL Sunday Ticket has always been exclusive to DirecTV because if it were to be more widely available, it would diminish the value of the games for the league’s cable and over-the-air television partners; of course, the NFL generates far more revenue from the likes of ESPN, CBS, FOX and NBC than they do from AT&T. Exclusivity hasn’t hurt DirecTV though, it’s helped turn the company into the largest pay-TV provider in the country (following AT&T acquisition, which was contingent upon the renewal of the NFL deal in ‘14).

DirecTV is a subsidiary of AT&T (T). As noted in yesterday’s piece on HBO, cord cutting and the shift to internet video had AT&T’s Entertainment division (see: DirecTV) reporting a -8% YoY revenue decline (to $11.7 billion) in Q2 ‘18.

Fan Marino: NFL television ratings were on an uptick again (at least compared to ’17) in Week 4, with 3 of the 4 Sunday time slots (CBS 1p, CBS 4p, NBC 8p) posting double-digit YoY increases. The time slot that did not experience a YoY rise in viewership (FOX 4p), still reported the best single-header rating of the season (11.7). Sunday’s ratings come on the heels of Thursday night’s highly competitive game between St. Louis and Minnesota, a contest that posted an 8% YoY increase (10.7 on FOX and a 19 on NFL Network).

Wait, it’s 2018 and DirecTV satellite subscribers still can’t stream games shown on NFL Sunday Ticket? Under the terms of the existing deal, only college students and those able to prove the inability to place a dish on their home have access to NFLSundayTicket.TV. The NFL’s take it or leave it offering is the polar opposite of the NBA’s new fan friendly NBA League Pass.

If you’re considering buying NFL Sunday Ticket, but unable to afford the $293.94 subscription price (if you want Red Zone it’s $100 more) AND live in the Los Angeles, Phoenix, Boston, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Hartford or Louisville areas, consider DIRECTV Now (streaming service) as an alternative to the satellite service. For just $55/mo. you can now (i.e. it’s new, not a pun) get access to the league’s entire out-of-market schedule. If the package expands, one must think it’ll have as positive of an impact on DirecTV Now subscriptions as it did for the satellite provider in the 90s.

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HBO Throws in the Towel on Live Boxing Programming

HBO 200x200

HBO has announced it will drop live boxing from its programming calendar after 45 years and 1000+ fights, following its October 27 card (featuring Daniel Jacobs); declining ratings (their Sept. 8 card was the lowest rated in network history) and increased competition (both from within the sport and MMA) were catalysts in the network’s decision. HBO Sports VP Peter Nelson said, “this is not a subjective decision. Our audience research informs us that boxing is no longer a determinant factor for subscribing to HBO.” HBO Sports will continue to produce “unscripted series (think: The Shop), long-form documentary films (think: Andre the Giant), reality programming (think: Being Serena, Hard Knocks), sports journalism.”

Howie Long-Short: For all the increased exposure that DAZN and ESPN+ bring to the sport, DAZN’s entry into the U.S. market and ESPN’s introduction of the live streaming platform have significantly raised the costs associated with carrying fights. HBO decided it would rather spend on developing original programming (think: Game of Thrones), than compete with DAZN, ESPN+, Showtime and Fox Sports for fights; Nelson added, “from an entertainment POV, it’s not unique. There’s plenty of boxing out there.”

Boxing’s impact on HBO’s success as a network is undeniable. By the early 90’s, fights on the network were attracting 1/3 of the company’s +/- 15-million-person subscription base. That percentage declined to +/- 2% (820,000 of the company’s +/- 40 million subscribers) ’18, which explains why boxing is no longer a profitable endeavor for Home Box Office.

There’s no doubt that AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner (HBO’s parent company) expedited the network’s decision to drop boxing, “once the merger went through, there was pressure on HBO to overhaul its model with a great focus on profits.”

Speaking of which, T issued its first earnings report (Q2) with the Time Warner properties under its umbrella. The WarnerMedia division (former Time Warner assets) reported a +7% YoY revenue increase to $7.8 billion (HBO “delivered strong subscriber revenue growth”), $1.1 billion of which was included in AT&T’s consolidated results; accounting for the 16 days between closing and the end of the quarter. The news wasn’t all positive though, cord cutting and the shift to internet video had AT&T’s Entertainment division (think: DirecTV) reporting a -8% YoY decline (to $11.7 billion). Earnings rose 15% YoY (to $.91/share), but the mixed results had share prices falling -4.5% on the news; they’ve since recovered and will open at $33.58 on Monday 10.1.

Fan Marino: HBO’s impact on the sport should not be underestimated. The premium cable network offered boxing a platform at a time when broadcast television was unwilling to assume the risk of carrying fights (see: ’82 death of Duk Koo Kim from injuries sustained during a nationally televised fight), but before PPV truly took off (’91); and the network remained the sport’s premier network through the 2000s.

While the network had been surpassed by Showtime in recent years, it had Canelo Alvarez/Gennady Golvkin II on HBO PPV on September 15th, which did 1.1 million buys. Those 2 fighters, the marquee names within the HBO stable, will become free-agents permitted to sign with another network (or streaming service).

Fun Fact: HBO’s first card (’73) concluded with George Foreman knocking out heavyweight champion Joe Frazier. Here’s the footage!

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NBA Offering Fans the Chance to Buy Crunch Time Ala Carte

League Pass

The NBA introduced its streaming options for the 2018-2019 season and for the first time, the league will offer fans the opportunity to purchase the final 12 minutes of an (out-of-market) league broadcast on an ala carte basis (for $1.99); the partial-game League Pass, joins the NBA’s premium ($250/season, $39.99/mo.), traditional ($200/season), individual team ($120/season) and single game ($6.99) subscription plans. Technology limitations currently prevent the introduction of additional partial-game plans, but expect the ability to pick up a game broadcast at the start of the 2nd quarter (or at halftime) by December; the option to buy blocks of game time (think: 10 minutes) will follow. Fans will have the choice to buy League Pass games through B/R Live (T), NBA.com or the NBA app.

Howie Long-Short: The NBA was experimenting with micro payments back in March (on an invitation-only basis), so this announcement was long anticipated; in fact Adam Silver first discussed fan interest in paying “a set price for five minutes as opposed to what they would pay for two hours” at CES in January 2016.

League Pass has long appealed to the hardcore NBA fan, the fan with a favorite team residing outside of his/her home market and the sports bettor (or DFS player), but the league has never been able to get the casual sports fan to buy into its streaming offerings. The 3 demographics League Pass has always appealed to will continue to want access to games in their entirety, so the introduction of partial-game League Pass won’t cannibalize the league’s existing subscription base; instead it becomes a newfound revenue stream, with the plan’s target demo not currently spending on league broadcasts (beyond their local RSN to access home team games). If any plan is going to eat away at League Pass profits, it’s going to be the team plan; the demo currently subscribing because his/her team is outside of their home market no longer needs to pay the additional $100+.

The partial-game League Pass is perfect for the millennial sports fan. While they may not be willing to watch a complete game, their interest in the most exciting parts (think: end of game situations) remains unchanged from previous generations. B/R is particularly strong delivering push notifications to the millennial sports fan and the ease in which a smartphone user can make the nominal in-app purchase makes me think the fees collected from micro transactions are (lucrative) low hanging fruit for league owners; expect every other sports league to follow the NBA’s lead and introduce their own version of partial-game League Pass.

Fan Marino: While NBA fans across the country can watch every out-of-market game (sans commercials) for $39.99/mo., hoops junkies in San Antonio (with a smartphone) can now ATTEND every Spurs home game this season for just $4.51 more ($44.50/mo.). The new SpurScription plan entitles the holder to a SRO pass for each of the team’s 41 home games, though the buyer has the option to upgrade their seat location for an additional fee. Considering the get-in price to see a single game against the Lakers ($87 – 10.27), Warriors ($62 – 11.18), Timberwolves ($60 – 12.21) or Raptors ($74 – 1.3.19) costs more than a full month of the plan, that’s a hell of a deal.

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Woods, Mickelson to Play Head-to-Head Thanksgiving Weekend

tiger-phil

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will compete in a made-for-TV golf exhibition Thanksgiving weekend (no precise date has been set, though it’s expected to be Friday 11.23), live from Las Vegas. The longtime rivals will play 18 holes for $9 million (winner take all), just $3 million less than total purse at the ’18 U.S. Open. “The Match” will be a pay-per-view event accessible across several AT&T-Time Warner assets (think: B/R Live, DirecTV, U-verse). No information pertaining to pricing has been disclosed.

Howie Long-Short: AT&T Inc. (T) acquired the TV rights to the competition, so Warner Media’s Turner Sports will produce the event; HBO, TNT and B/R will provide shoulder programming. WarnerMedia was formed following AT&T’s $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner in June.

Speaking of which, T issued its first earnings report (Q2) with the Time Warner properties under its umbrella. The WarnerMedia division (former Time Warner assets) reported a +7% YoY revenue increase (to $7.8 billion), $1.1 billion of which was included in AT&T’s consolidated results; accounting for the 16 days between closing and the end of the quarter. The news wasn’t all positive though, cord cutting and the shift to internet video had AT&T’s Entertainment division (think: DirecTV) reporting a -8% YoY decline (to $11.7 billion). Q2 earnings rose 15% YoY (to $.91/share), but the mixed results had share prices falling -4.5% on the news; they’ve since recovered, closing at $32.49 on Thursday.

Fan Marino: I’m failing to see the appeal here and we don’t even have a price point yet. Those excited about the event will tout the opportunity to watch 2 all-time greats compete head-to-head, but this isn’t Sunday at Augusta. There’s nothing at stake except money and Woods and Mickelson aren’t exactly broke college students trying to pay off college loans; Woods has earned $113.5 million to date on tour, while Mickelson has cashed PGA Tour checks worth more than $87.5 million.

It’s also a particularly busy weekend on the sports calendar with Week 12 NFL games, college football rivalry games and college basketball’s pre-season tournaments. AT&T should be able to pull the country club crowd, assuming the event is priced like a single game on NBA League Pass ($6.99) and not a PPV fight ($49.99), but I’m doubting that the average sports fan is willing to pay for a golf themed TV show on day that includes Kyler Murray vs. Will Grier, the Apple Cup, the Civil War and a Top 5 CBB matchup between Kansas and Tennessee.

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Comcast Preparing to Divest 22 Fox RSNs, To Submit 2nd All-Cash Bid by July 27th  

Comcast

Comcast (CMCSA) is reportedly lining up buyers for 21st Century Fox’s (FOXA) regional sports networks to alleviate anti-trust concerns, as it prepares a bid that would be favorable to The Walt Disney Company’s (DIS) $71 billion dollar offer (cash and stock) for FOXA film & TV assets. CMCSA is open to divesting all 22 RSNs, but believes just 8 overlap with the existing Comcast sports footprint. Reuters is reporting that the company has held conversations with publicly-traded buyout firms Apollo Global Management (APO) and Blackstone Group (BX). Just 2 weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Justice approved DIS’ bid after reaching a settlement with the mouse house to rid itself of the regional sports networks.

Howie Long-Short: It’s been assumed that the RSNs will fetch $20 billion+ (Comcast’s first bid placed a $24 billion valuation on them), so selling them off will help Comcast coffers as the company prepares to submit a 2nd all-cash bid (no dollar amounts given). FOXA shareholders are scheduled to vote on the DIS bid on July 27th, Comcast will submit their bid prior.

Rumors of P.E. firms taking down the RSNs is relatively surprising as most of the discussions surrounding potential landing spots having focused on telecom and media companies. Everyone from Amazon (AMZN) and YouTube (GOOGL) to AT&T (T) and Dish Network (DISH) has been mentioned.

I asked T.K. Gore, sports media consultant, advisor and professor, for his thoughts on who lands the RSNs?

T.K.: The RSN world is a tricky business and experience — coupled with deep pockets — matters. Look for groups like Liberty Media and AT&T to get involved given their experiences.

MSG is among the companies that has been associated with having interest in the regional networks. James Dolan has said that he’d be interested in acquiring the assets “at the right price”, noting they’re highly profitable now but a “slow, declining revenue stream.”

Fan Marino: The 22 RSNs collectively control exclusive broadcast rights to 44 NFL, NBA, MLB & NHL franchises, including teams in Detroit, Southern California, Dallas, Cleveland and Miami. The YES Network is the most valuable of the lot, worth an estimated $4 billion; the Yankees are likely to re-acquire that network.

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Comcast Submits $65 Billion All-Cash Offer for Fox Film/TV Assets, Including 22 RSNs

CMCSA

Just 24 hours after the announcement that a federal judge had approved AT&T’s $85 billion takeover of Time Warner, it was reported that Comcast (CMCSA) submitted a $65 billion all-cash bid for 21st Century Fox’s (FOXA) film and TV assets (including 22 RSNs); trumping the $52.4 billion all-stock offer that The Walt Disney Company (DIS) had placed in December. Comcast’s interest largely surrounds FOXA’s 30% stake in Hulu, as the acquisition would give CMCSA controlling interest in the OTT service (already own 30%). NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke stated, “we would be very very interested in growing that business.” In fact, it’s possible that if Comcast’s offer were to be selected, the company wouldn’t even end up controlling the RSNs; language within their bid indicated the company would match any regulatory commitments made by DIS; including to “divest… any of the RSNs.”

Howie Long-Short: FOXA shares rose +7.7% (to $43.66) on Wednesday following report of the Comcast bid. DIS closed up +2% (to $106.30), while CMCSA shares remained flat ($32.32) as investors expressed skepticism about the company increasing their debt level to 4x earnings; necessary to finance both the Fox deal and their purchase of Sky PLC (SKYAY).

It’s certainly worth noting that Comcast’s bid places a +/- $24 billion valuation on the 22 RSNs.

SKYAY is another name to watch. If DIS counters CMCSA’s bid, it’s possible that Fox will up its bid (currently $14.38/share) for the European pay-tv provider. Fox currently owns 39% of the company and was planning to acquire the remaining 61%, with the intention of flipping the asset as part of the proposed $52.4 billion transaction. Should a bidding war arise, John Janedis, an analyst at Jefferies LLC said it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the winning bid to reach $80 billion. For reference purposes, Comcast bid $16.72/share for 61% of Sky. The domestic cable/internet provider wants the asset (and Star – India) to expand its business overseas.

Fan Marino: AT&T’s (T) acquisition of Time Warner (TWX) includes several sports-related properties including Turner Sports, Bleacher Report and the newly launched Bleacher Report Live service; an untethered (i.e. no subscription needed) premium sports streaming service. T also takes controlling interest in the country’s largest pay television distributor, DirectTV. TWX shares rose 2% on Wednesday to $97.95, while T shares declined 6.2% (to $32.22) on the news.

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YouTube TV, Hulu Engaged in Sports Sponsorship Arms Race

hulu-youtube-tv-logosjpg

A brand awareness campaign is among the ways (exclusive content and user experience are others) that an MVPD, OTT live-streaming service or VOD platform can distinguish itself from the competition and drive growth. Over the last month, rivals YouTube TV and Hulu have announced noteworthy sponsorship transactions (without disclosing financial details) surrounding marquee sporting events. Below is a brief each deal:

  • YouTube TV will remain (was in ’17) the presenting sponsor of the World Series, (“World Series Presented by YouTube TV”) through the 2019 season. As part of an expanded partnership, the subscription streaming service will also add MLB Network to its base package. For an additional fee, YouTube TV subscribers will eventually have the option to add MLB.tv (provides regional broadcasts of games) to their package. “On-air callouts”, a national advertising campaign and in stadium signage are also included within the deal.
  • YouTube TV will become the first-ever presenting sponsor for the NBA Finals. The deal, which runs through at least ’19, will also make the company the presenting sponsor of the WNBA and G-League Finals. On-court and in-arena signage, ABC ad spots, “in-game callouts” and branding across the league’s digital and social channels, are also included within the pact.

It must also be noted that YouTube TV has also landed exclusive streaming rights to Los Angeles FC and Seattle Sounders games.

  • Hulu has signed on as an official partner of the NHL & NHLPA for the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and Stanley Cup Finals; a “comprehensive partnership” that will “cross all league touch points including NBC Sports, the NHL’s digital and social channels, as well as camera-visible, in-stadium inventory within all U.S. venues.”
  • Hulu also signed a deal with Turner Sports, to sponsor NBA playoff games on TNT. A “Presented by Hulu” graphic will be prominently displayed on “opening graphic cards, custom billboards and scorecards” throughout all first-round coverage, Conference Semifinals action and Western Conference Finals broadcasts. NBA on TNT talent will appear in ad spots promoting the streaming service.

Howie Long-Short: The success YouTube TV had using live telecasts of the 2017 World Series to drive subscriptions initiated this competition between rivals; but, YouTube TV isn’t the leader in this space. In fact, the size of its subscriber base (300,000+) has the company competing with Hulu (450,000) for a distant 4th place. The oldest service, Sling TV, leads with 2.22 million subscribers; while AT&T’s (T) DirectTV Now comes in second with 1.2 million. Sony’s (SNE) PlayStation Vue is 3rd with +/- 500,000 monthly subscribers.

Fan Marino:  For reference purposes, Sling TV is a subsidiary of DISH Network (DISH). Google (GOOGL) owns YouTube TV and The Walt Disney Co. (DIS), pending final approval of its 21st Century Fox acquisition, controls 60% of Hulu; Comcast (30%) and Time Warner (10%) own the balance.

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Comcast Drops Big Ten Network from All But 9 “Home Markets”

Big10

Comcast Corporation (CMCSA) has dropped Big Ten Network from its cable offerings in all but 9 “home markets”, explaining several factors played into the decision; “ranging from the costs programmers charge us to carry their channels and the amount of viewership, to available alternatives.” Subscribers in Illinois (IU, ILL, NW) Indiana (IU, PUR), Maryland (UM), Michigan (UM, MSU) Minnesota (UM), New Jersey (RU), Ohio (OSU), Pennsylvania (PSU) and Wisconsin (UW) will continue to receive the conference network. Iowa (IU) & Nebraska (NU) are the only “home markets” excluded from the list, as Comcast does not provide services to residents of those states. CMCSA has stated there are no plans to cut the network from the remaining “home markets.”

Howie Long-Short: The timing of this decision is likely related to a recent report indicating the Pac 12 Network average subscriber fee declined 63% over the last 5 years (to $.11), while the Big Ten Network (B10) fee increased 30% over the same time (to $.48). Rising carriage fees are directly correlated to the “(rising) costs programmers charge us to carry their channel”; and with basketball season over and football season not starting for another 4 months, CMCSA sees the opportunity to lower the amount it pays the conference to carry the channel.

If in fact the decision is final, their loss would be a gain for Time Warner (TWX), DirecTV (T), DISH and Verizon (VZ); carriers that offer the network nationwide, as passionate Big Ten football fans will switch providers before missing a big game. For those interested in owning a piece of the Big Ten Network, you can invest in Fox Entertainment Group (FOXA); they control 51%, with the 14 member Universities owning the balance.

Fan Marino: College football programs utilize different accounting methods, with some schools allocating a larger percentage of their conference payouts to the sport (in FY16 it ranged between 45%-85% at Big 10 schools); making it tough to compare apples to apples. If you remove the conference payout ($16.1 million) from the ledger, the picture becomes clearer.

In 2016-2017, Michigan ($40.3 million), Ohio State ($24 million) and Penn State ($16.3 million) had the football programs within the conference, that generated the largest surplus (discounting the payout); while Purdue ($11.97 million), Minnesota ($13.4 million) and Indiana ($14.6 million) operated at the biggest losses. Of course, it’s not a coincidence that Michigan, OSU and PSU finished 1st, 3rd and 2nd, respectively; while Purdue, Minnesota and Indiana ended that season that season 10th, 5th and 11th out of 13 teams. The more a program wins, the more revenue it generates. Northwestern, a private institution, does not release its football program’s financials.

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March Madness Continues to Generate Record Television Ad Spend, Growth Rate Slowing

March Madness

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament remains “the second largest post-season sports franchise, trailing only the NFL playoffs”, in terms of television advertising expenditure; but, the ad spend growth rate for the Big Dance trails that of the NBA, MLB and NFL post seasons, over the last 5 years. Though 97 advertisers (a record) spent $1.28 billion (also a record) on television advertisements during March Madness ‘17, that total has grown just 3.3% annually since topping $1 billion for the first time in 2012. For comparison purposes, the NFL is growing +9.7% annually with advertisers having spent $1.55 billion during the most recent postseason. The NBA (3rd largest post season franchise) has experienced 11.7% YOY growth over the same period, with brands increasing their total postseason ad expenditure to $934 million in 2017.

Howie Long-Short: The prohibitive cost of advertising during the NCAA tournament, relative to global audience size (or lack thereof), is likely the biggest reason March Madness’ ad spend growth rate trails the NFL, NBA and MLB postseasons. NCAA bylaws preventing companies from using the names (or likeness) of the college athletes in their advertisements, also places them at a competitive disadvantage relative to the pro sports leagues. It should be noted that the NCAA’s ad spend growth rate is “in line with rights fees increases.” For informational purposes, General Motors (GM, $83 million), AT&T (T, $66 million) and Coca-Cola (KO, $56 million) spent the most among advertisers during the 2017 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Fan Marino: Loyola University-Chicago won its first NCAA tournament game since 1985, upsetting the University of Miami on a 3 pointer at the buzzer; a highlight that will live in March lore forever. Among those in attendance were 98-year-old team chaplain Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt. Dolores-Schmidt is no front-runner. Prior to November (she broke her hip keeping her out of action), she had only missed 2 games since ’94. She has a plaque in the school’s hall of fame, had her own bobble head night at the arena and still issues scouting reports on upcoming opponents. Her 11th seeded Ramblers are scheduled to play 3rd seeded Tennessee on Saturday. No doubt, she’ll have some thoughts on how to stop Grant Williams; UT’s unanimous all-SEC first team selection.

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Interest Lacking in TNF Package, Fox Submits Highest Bid

NBC Thursday Night Football
NBC THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL — Pictured: “NBC Thursday Night Football” Logo — (Photo by: NBC Sports)

Just three linear television networks submitted bids for the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package; Fox (submitted the highest bid), CBS & NBC. Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA) reportedly bid more than the combined $450 million that CBS & NBC (CMCSA) paid in 2017. Both companies have acknowledged that they lost money on the package last season (advertiser interest declined) and stated they would be submitting lower bids for rights to the games in 2018. ABC/ESPN did not submit a bid, as the company did not think it could turn a profit at the going rate; nor did Turner, as it did not believe the league would sell the rights to a cable network (TWX is also tied up in a potential merger with T). TNF ratings on CBS and NBC are down 20% since 2015.

Howie Long-Short: When FOXA decided to sell $52.4 billion worth of assets (TV, film & RSNs) to DIS, the company restructured focusing on news coverage & live sports; so, adding TNF rights aligns with the new strategy, even if the games don’t immediately turn a profit. It’s reasonable to ask why Fox would outbid its competitors for a property that loses money. Simply put, they hope TNF can boost ratings on shoulder programming and want the opportunity to promote the network’s other shows. TNF remains a Top 5 primetime program. While it is the least valuable NFL package, it still maintains tremendous value relative to other television programming.

Fan Marino: NBC has the rights to the 2018 Super Bowl. Al Michaels (PBP), Cris Collinsworth (color) and Michelle Tafoya (sideline) will call the game. It will be the 10th time Michaels has called the Super Bowl. One individual that will be noticeably absent from the NBC broadcast is Bob Costas (who stated last February that he expected to call the game). Perhaps, in hindsight, it wasn’t the best idea to predict the demise of the country’s most popular sport.

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