NFL ratings have declined, ESPN has become a drag on parent Disney’s earnings, and the way people consume TV continues to evolve, threatening existing business models.
Yet the next few weeks will offer a concentrated demonstration of sports programming’s enduring power, and why TV remains so fixated on it, to the point of paying exorbitant premiums.
This Sunday brings Super Bowl LII, a TV event that dwarfs all others, followed by another sports showcase so big that it calls for Roman numerals, NBC’s broadcast of the XXIII Winter Olympics. Even in the age of peak TV, the Olympics are perceived to be such a potent draw that other networks have largely gotten out of their way, with CBS, for example, trotting out “Celebrity Big Brother” as a means of (hopefully) helping to inexpensively keep the lights on for those 17 days.
Fox, meanwhile, just acquired rights to the NFL’s Thursday-night football package, which had been shared by CBS and NBC. Part of that has to do with Fox’s unique position — the network is currently struggling, and will lose its sister production division whenever the Disney-Fox merger deal goes through — adding a measure of desperation to its bid that football owners have always been happy to exploit.
Fox’s five-year deal will reportedly pay the NFL more than $3 billion, a dramatic increase over the $450 million that the previous rights holders were shelling out per year.