As the 2020 NFL season approaches its halfway mark, millions of fans are following the action on the field to see if their team will make the playoffs. However, behind the scenes, negotiations are taking place between the NFL and various media conglomerates that will shape how fans consume professional football for the next decade and beyond.
Immediately following Super Bowl LVI on February 6, 2022, the current NFL broadcast contracts are set to expire. These contracts dictate which networks broadcast each game, what time slot each game is scheduled for and on what devices viewers are able to watch the games. The current contracts were negotiated in 2011 and are worth over $5 billion in total each year.
During previous seasons, the NFL’s broadcast partners publicly stated that it would not start negotiating contract extensions until the NFL reached a new collective bargaining agreement with the NFLPA. The NFL players association approved this CBA on March 15, 2020, leading many to speculate that television negotiations would begin shortly after. However, earlier that week, Utah Jazz center Rudy Golbert tested positive for COVID-19, sending all of professional sports and American society into uncharted waters.
Both the NFL and its broadcast partners preferred to delay the television contract negotiations. The NFL executives were busy adjusting the upcoming season for an unimaginable virus, while television networks wanted to wait and see what effects the pandemic would take on professional sports and viewership patterns. Now that the season is underway as “normal” and television ratings have largely stabilized, preliminary contract negotiations are taking place.
Below, I examine the history of NFL television contracts and the economic considerations behind them, before speculating what the next round of television contracts might look like.