ABC will reportedly be among the networks submitting bids for Thursday Night Football television rights during the 2018 season.
According to Sports Business Journal, ABC could go up against CBS and NBC for the rights which, along with ESPN’s current Monday Night Football deal, would give parent company Disney a substantial stake in NFL distribution.
For the most recent NFL season, CBS and NBC went halves on a $450 million deal to air the Thursday games along with the NFL Network. The deal was signed in 2016 and totaled $900 million over two seasons. At the same time, NFL streaming partners Twitter and Amazon paid between $10 million and $50 million for streaming rights to Thursday night games.
For ABC, a potential deal would mark the first time it has had prime-time NFL games since 2005, the last season before Monday Night Football moved to ESPN. But for ESPN, the expensive NFL rights deal has lost some of its luster as the sports network struggles to manage declining subscriber totals and rising programming costs.
Recent speculation has suggested that ESPN may end up ditching Monday Night Football in an effort to shore up those programming costs. BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield said that subscriber losses coupled with advertising pressure due to lower ratings could have a negative effect on ESPN’s ability to retain Monday Night Football, particularly at such a high price.
In 2011, ESPN renewed its deal with the NFL through 2021 for $15.2 billion. ESPN pays the most annually for its NFL rights, shelling out $1.9 billion every year. Meanwhile, Fox and CBS both pay about $1 billion per year for Sunday games, and NBC pays $960 million per year for Sunday night games. But ESPN’s deal includes the NFL Draft, the Combine, and the Pro Bowl in addition to extensive highlights rights.