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NFL Announces New Media Distribution Agreements

The NFL has announced new media distribution agreements that will affect game broadcasts for more than a decade. The agreements include deals with four major networks and a wide variety of streaming platforms.

For over-the-air/basic cable TV-watchers, little will change. CBS will still carry Sunday afternoon AFC games, FOX will carry Sunday afternoon NFC games, NBC will still carry Sunday Night Football, and ESPN will still carry Monday Night Football. The biggest change is that Thursday Night Football will now be exclusively on Amazon Prime Video. Select games will also be available on a variety of streaming services, including Paramount+, ESPN+, Tubi, and Peacock. The announcement also says that more games may be flexed to Sunday Night Football, and even from Sunday afternoons to Monday nights. ABC has also acquired the rights to a pair of Super Bowls.

The NFL's announcement makes no mention of the Sunday Ticket package, but it is widely believed that this service will be moving from DirecTV to ESPN+. All of these changes will begin in 2023.

Sports Business Journal reports that the new deals are worth roughly $10 billion per year.

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27 comments, Last at 26 Mar 2021, 12:32pm

19 If I were to move back to…

If I were to move back to the Detroit market, I would probably still keep it to have the option of watching something besides whatever terrible local game is on (whether it be involving the Lions or otherwise).  I also have multiple screens and enjoy having multiple games on at once.  It allows me to tolerate overpriced DirecTV and their shitty customer serviced (just barely).  If I can get the same thing with just streaming at almost assuredly a much lower price, I'm all for it.

3 This is the best thing that…

This is the best thing that can happen to Thursday night football. We can only hope it will get such low viewership that they'll stop playing the games

5 Your thought is that being…

Your thought is that being exclusive to Amazon Prime is going to reduce viewership? I'm not convinced. Far more people have Prime than have NFL Network (a quick search shows Prime subscribership at ~126 million in 2020 and the total cable install base - not all of whom have NFLN - is ~34 million and declining). Some of the TNF games were broadcast over-the-air (which theoretically reaches almost everyone in the country), but not all of them. I think they could legitimately see viewership growth from consistently having the games in the same place and having a consistent marketing push in that direction rather than the piecemeal way they've scheduled TNF in the recent past.

8 Yeah

Count me as one that has Prime and not NFLN. I'll certainly throw it on when I can. 

Never understood the hate for TNF though. More football is cool with me. Hard to watch every game on Sunday/Monday. 

10 2 items need to be clarified…

2 items need to be clarified. Your Prime number is a global one.  Due to time zone and cultural differences, it's not safe to assume that a US-like % of them would watch TNF.  Also there are about 74MM pay TV subscribers in the US currently, not 34MM.

I agree, the Amazon games could outperform the NFLN-only broadcasts. I doubt that it'll outperform the FOX ones.

21 You're right - I googled …

You're right - I googled "cable subscribers," which leaves out satellite customers. My bad.

The Amazon Prime subscriber count I provided was US-only, though: https://www.statista.com/statistics/546894/number-of-amazon-prime-paying-members/ (this is 2019 - it has probably gone up in 2020, but I can't find a number on a site that isn't sketchy)

The difference between the install base is still pretty big. That sort of thing matters. But I think the week-to-week consistency and marketing also matters. It's now clearer where the games will be played and someone new (Amazon) now has a vested interest in marketing the games to make their investment pay. I think the overall TNF viewership over the whole season could go up, even if individual games airing on Fox drew more eyeballs than do the new Prime-only games.

24 As much as I love tech…

As much as I love tech company user counts, I believe that households is the better metric in order to get a sense of Prime's scale, since football viewership is usually a community activity.  A family of 4 doesn't usually have 4 TVs tuned to the game simultaneously.  The US has about 130MM households.  Prime has significant penetration, but it's likely not close to 100% coverage of US households.

4 For reference this is about…

For reference this is about a 50% increase on the previous media rights deal in 2011. Which sounds huge, but the last rights deal (on a shorter length contract on a shorter distance from the previous one!) was a 60% jump. And of course it's not like the NFL is going to go ahead and jump the salary cap by 50% in one year - you spread it evenly over the length of the contract.

Spreading the remaining COVID losses over 2022/2023, that makes OTC's cap estimates look spot on ($203/$225/$256, and then expecting around 6-6.5% annualized growth rate after that), although based on a few contracts (Prescott!) I'd guess they're also thinking about spreading it over 2022-2024.

Always helpful to remember that exponential growth is crazy!

Also, for those curious, this would also mean that Patrick Mahomes's cap hit would peak at 20% of the cap, which, shockingly, is still the peak hit for a QB (I think), occuring all the way back in 2003 (!) with Manning. Matt Ryan's scheduled to be higher in 2022, but that'll never happen. Still can't believe the Chiefs actually got him to sign that contract.

Edit: Hmm. Thinking about it more, even a 6% annualized growth might be too high given the length. Another way to view it is this: teams got $200M/yr in 2014 from networks, and in 2023 they'll get $312.5M/yr. That's an annualized growth of only 5%/yr. If we assume the cap *should* be $235M in 2023 (without COVID losses), at 6%/yr growth it'd end up at $420M in 2033, which... would look ouchy from the NFL's perspective, since the network money would be 75% of the cap at the end of the contract (whereas it's 90% of the cap at the end of the current contract, in 2022). This is probably around the way the NFL will scale things, as spreading the increase evenly exposes you to a lot of risk at the end if the next TV contract doesn't have the same jump. I realized this because the cap fraction in the past deals all ended around 90% of the cap, so that's likely the scaling they're using.

In order for the cap to end up at the same fraction by 2033, you'd need ~4% annualized growth. So it's probably safe to say that anything noticeably above 6% growth is very unlikely, and in fact the cap growth might be slowing.

6 Mahomes must really, really,…

Mahomes must really, really, like playing for Reid, and just wants to make his career as pleasant as possible, within reason, in terms of the quality of his teammates. When we saw what happened when he was forced to play with Mike Remmers at left tackle against the Bucs, the reasonableness of that attitude becomes pretty apparent.

Either that, or Mahomes' agent sucks, which I think unlikely, but who knows?

7 I mean, QB contracts have to…

I mean, QB contracts have to slow down. Obviously. Guarantee fractions can't get larger than 100%, and growth rates have to match cap growth at some point. That's just freaking math. Which is why every time there's a new QB contract, I look at it and try to figure out "is this continuing the 10% growth, or is it finally bending?"

When Wentz and Goff's contract came out, I thought "oh, it's bending!" - then Watson's contract comes out and it's like "ha ha sucker." Then Mahomes's contract comes out and I'm like "oh, this is gonna clamp things longer term" and Prescott's contract comes out and again it's "ha ha sucker" again. Prescott's contract is 78% guaranteed and the 2nd highest cap % APY at signing! WTF?!

Mahomes's contract isn't necessarily that bad if Prescott's contract basically represents the ceiling for QBs (~20% cap) and cap growth slows long-term. But those are big ifs. 

12 I believe that you just…

I believe that you just answered the question in your post.  The only way for players to get seriously paid in the NFL is to have leverage over the team.  Dak was willing to see things through the end by playing on a cheap contract under his rookie deal and then the franchise tag.  Most players don't do that.  So Dallas either had to pay him massive amounts in 2020 and 2021 under the tag, letting him become a FA in 2022, or bite the bullet and give him the contract that he wanted (in terms of years and money).  Like most players, Wentz, Goff, and Watson decided to take the money early, which is not the way to maximize compensation. 

13 "Like most players, Wentz,…

"Like most players, Wentz, Goff, and Watson decided to take the money early, which is not the way to maximize compensation."

Uh, I dunno what you're thinking of, but Watson's contract's the 3rd highest cap-adjusted APY contract of all time for QBs, and is a noticeably better contract than Mahomes's is. Yes, it's slightly behind Prescott's, but that's to be expected given that it was signed a year earlier and QB contracts grow at ~10%/yr on average.

Goff and Wentz's contracts definitely look like they are "early & cheap" but they also look like they're on a bent QB contract curve, whereas Watson's just looks like it's early & cheap (because he got QB market value for the time, but pushed 2 years in the future).

Obviously, waiting until you're about to hit free agency like Dak did gives you strong leverage, but that'll get you guarantees + shorter contract length, not value (hence why Cousins hitting free agency got him a 100% guarantee). Total value's basically just set by everyone's opinion of what the market is, and Watson and Prescott's contracts just keep pushing the (unsustainable) 10% growth.

14 Again, you've proven my…

Again, you've proven my point.  If Watson decided to finish his rookie deal and take the risk of playing under the franchise tag, then he's negotiating off Dak's deal and other future massive QB deals in 2022 and 2023 and capturing that 10% yearly contract growth for himself.  That results in a bigger deal.  Contractual language like guarantees, timing of payment of the guarantees, length, agreements forbidding the team from being able to use the franchise tag on the player in the future, etc have significant value. 

15 Yeah, that's the cost of…

Yeah, that's the cost of signing an extension. Been that way forever. You take the hit by signing future years at current market.

But, just to be clear, the entire point of what I've been saying is that the 10% yearly growth rate for QB contracts and progressive increases in guaranteed fractions cannot continue indefinitely. It can't. It's mathematically impossible. We're currently at the point where we have to start seeing contracts bend because we're at all-time highs in cap%'s for QBs for guys who aren't "all time greats."

Wentz, Goff, and Mahomes's contracts all showed signs of the growth curve bending. Watson and Prescott's don't. The "value" part has nothing to do with Prescott's leverage - it has to do with some teams still being willing to let that 10% growth continue. That's the surprising part (that there are teams left).

There are a lot of QB contracts coming up in the next few years, so it'll be very interesting to see how things progress. If we see QB contracts blowing past 20% of the cap (for instance, if the Falcons actually keep Ryan at 24% of the cap in 2022), that's... gonna have consequences.

17 That's fair.  I think it…

That's fair.  I think it would take either (1) implicit collusion by teams to moderate QB salary growth or (2) teams learning to appropriately value the 2nd and 3rd tier guys as replaceable.  #1 won't happen in IMO. Since getting a better QB can lead to a significant improvement in the number of wins, teams that think that they're 1 guy away will always pay up even if the guy isn't elite (example: Minnesota with Cousins).  And there will always be teams that think that they're 1 guy away.  I am hopeful about #2.  Some of the rationale for overpaying QBs was due to the fact that competent or better QBs in their primes rarely became available, so teams had an incentive to resign their own QBs due to a lack of readily available alternatives.  The fact that guys like Wentz and Goff actually moved this year is a sign of progress.  Coupled with the rules changes and the fact that NFL teams are running the same stuff that HS and college teams run, it's much easier to get a new QB up and running in a new scheme. 

22 It's not implicit collusion,…

It's not implicit collusion, it's just market forces. Each team has equal and finite resources long-term, so at some point a QB's demands will be too high, and teams will let him hit free agency and he'll find that he doesn't have the market he was expecting. It's just math. Quarterback salaries, long term, have to end up at equal growth rate to the salary cap. Given the fact that it looks like the cap growth might actually slow slightly in the next 10 years (not surprising), that's got to happen by then.

I mean, look: the new media deal ends in 2033. Starting at 40M/yr, 10% growth over that period would be $125M/yr, or 36% of the cap, and that's just not happening. Even if you take a very low estimate of QB growth (say, 8.5%) that's still $106M/yr in 2033, and again, not happening.

It'll be very interesting to see if the 2003 Colts record of dedicating 20.5% of the cap to a single QB actually falls (it's scheduled to in 2022, by either Ryan or Cousins). It's also worth pointing out that top QB growth hasn't grown at 10%/yr - it's more like the cap growth. What's been happening is that the lower QBs have been pushing QB contract growth. It's at the point now where it's difficult to tell if the best QBs are actually even getting paid more.

11 A few things.  We'll have to…

A few things.  We'll have to see whether Rodgers ends up getting his deal redone soon since that one hasn't aged well.  My sense is that Mahomes' contract will be redone if it ever gets too out of whack relative to market.  Furthermore, off-field income matters a lot to these guys and it's easier to get endorsement money when you're the QB of a SB contending team than when you're the QB of mediocre team.

16 To be clear, Mahomes…

To be clear, Mahomes sacrificed literally all of his leverage by signing that contract, and it extends until basically his late career. The Chiefs could easily modify some things (guarantee values, etc.) to keep him happy, but redoing the contract to just give him money would be practically unheard of.

18 I agree with him giving up…

I agree with him giving up leverage.  However, he did it for the clear purpose of allowing the Chiefs to be able to build a good team around him.  If circumstances change significantly - like if Reid retires and his replacement sucks and/or the team just stops being competitive - then I would expect Mahomes' situation to change as well. 

20 I am not sure giving up…

I am not sure giving up leverage for the team was that necessary for Mahomes.

He signed a contract that sets himself up for life, and guarantees him more money over the next decade than any other player who has ever played the game.  At no point in his contract will the team be able to save money by cutting him.  His injury guarantees are, again, best of all time.

All of those are huge wins for him.  He could have played the Cousins game and probably gotten an extra 15% over his contract (maybe a bit more) if things go to according to schedule.  But his full and injury guarantees dwarf that route at signing.

Also, I am not sure on this point, because I have never had that kind of money, but there is very little you can buy with 500 million that you cannot buy with 450 million.  I generally think it can be real smart for players to bet on themselves, but at the top of the market that logic falls away because the money is so massive that mitigating some of the risks of football is a lot smarter than pushing for a bit of extra money.

23 I totally agree, but we just…

I totally agree, but we just haven't seen that kind of a contract from other QBs yet at all. They're all pushing much more rapid growth with much shorter timescales. Whereas Mahomes's contract is very team friendly, with the caveat that he's essentially uncuttable (although he's perfectly tradeable).

Honestly I wouldn't be surprised if there's a fair amount of animosity towards Mahomes from other NFL QBs. There hasn't been a contract that long signed by a QB... ever. There's only been 1 over 6 years in the past 17 years (and that one didn't even last half the contract).

It's just a very weird contract, and like I said I thought it seemed extremely long-term reasonable for a situation like the Chiefs where they know they've got a franchise QB but they've got to mitigate the long term stuff. I was totally expecting Prescott's contract to be similar, and it just... wasn't.

26 Mahomes regression.

I can't help but caveat many of the assumptions regarding Mahomes by hedging with the real possibility that he just isn't as good as most people think he is in a vacuum.  

There are several QB in this new generation who could have done well in Reid's system with all the weapons they had when Mahomes came in the NFL.

In some ways, a QB's legacy is merely chance and opportunity.  Brady was literally paper think odds from being an undrafted FA.  Perhaps he never makes the SB or gets the opportunity to develop?

If the Chiefs had drafted Watson instead of Mahomes, would they have had more or less success?  

I'm already on record predicted regression for the Chiefs this year with no SB appearance and unlikely to even make the AFC CG.

Will we change our perception of Mahomes if he stays at 1-1 in SB's for the next 5 years?



27 If Mahomes is 75% of his…

If Mahomes is 75% of his current performance, he's a Hall of Fame QB.

Mahomes, right now, is on pace for off-the-charts greatest of all time QB, with the only possible exception being someone who weights Super Bowls above all else. If he puts up 7 more seasons at 75% of his current level, he'll end up with a weighted career AV in the ballpark of 160 which would put him fifth all time. If he puts up 7 more seasons at his current worst-year performance, he'll end up with the highest weighted career AV of all time. He went 1-2-1 in DYAR his first 3 years. That's Manning/Brady/Brees level dominance, and Manning's Hall of Fame discussion consisted of Mike Chappell saying "Peyton Manning", Brady's will too, and Brees's is likely to be similar. Mahomes has so far to fall that it's not even funny.

"I'm already on record predicted regression for the Chiefs this year with no SB appearance and unlikely to even make the AFC CG."

Unless you're predicting them to not make the playoffs, this isn't exactly a bold regression statement. I mean, you're asking me "what will I think of Mahomes if he makes the playoffs 4 times in his first 4 years, goes to 2 Super Bowls and 3 AFCCGs?" I'll think he's making a run at GOAT, that's what. That's better than Brady and Manning did!