Reports of continuing and more promising negotiations to end the NFL lockout now include a proposal for a 16-game Thursday night primetime slate.
Kicking off with the 2012 season, the package would presumably be placed on the open market, which is not necessarily good news for NFL Network and its late-season slate.
Presumably, the games could draw interest from a number of media companies looking to bolster the marquee and the monthly license fees for some of their assets - think News Corp.’s FX, which has reemerged as a sports presence as part of some of Fox’s recent college football deals; NBC Sports Group’s Versus, which has renewed its NHL deal, but is looking beyond Comcast’s securing of the Olympic rights from 2014-2020; and Turner Sports, which has been eyeing more properties since its March Madness gambit with CBS.
Of course, Roger Goodell could also sell a pair of half-season packages — that’s how TNT and ESPN’s initially kicked off with the NFL. Or they could invite another network into the club and keep eight games and value alive for its in-house service.
Whatever the permutations, it would seem easier to grab guaranteed checks, than having to engage in the ongoing battle to collect license fees for NFL Network, which remains on the sidelines with Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and Charter.
An 18-game schedule is reportedly a negotiable item at this juncture, one that could add length, inventory and higher rights fees into the mix.
For those who need to pull out their network scorecard, I’ll save you the trouble: Recall that ESPN and the league are supposedly sitting on a playoff-free, $1.9 billion annual rights deal, just a slight increase from the worldwide leader’s current $1.1 billion seasonal outlay, which concludes with the 2013 campaign.
With contracts for the other players set to expire over the next few years — those held by NBC, CBS and Fox also conclude after that 2013 season, while the gun will sound on DirecTV’s out of market Sunday Ticket following the 2014 campaign — billions more in media rights will roll in like a pulling guard leading a running back around the corner.
More rights — not to mention sponsorships and potential digital doings — equal more money. A lot more: the NFL’s projected revenue could reportedly double from current the $9 billion level to $18 billion by 2016. Don’t expect Judge Doty to have to rule that the NFL pulled its negotiating punches like it did last go round to help arm its lockout insurance policy.
Under the expired collective bargaining agreement, players received 60% of “total revenue,” but that did not include $1 billion that was taken off the top by management. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has stated that players were actually receiving around 53% percent of all revenues.
Whatever the old percentages, the players might be willing to settle for a smaller cut — a 48% split — of a significantly expanded revenue pie, particularly if all the owners contractually commit to spending close to the readjusted salary cap.