- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - With NFL games enjoying seemingly invincible ratings while most everything else on TV goes down, down, down, the league’s traditional broadcast partners embraced a deal that sends their rights fees up, up, up.

CBS, Fox and NBC renewed their contracts for nine years through the 2022 season, the NFL announced Wednesday. The average fees from the three networks will increase by an average of 7 percent annually, a person familiar with the details said. That will take the total revenue from them from the current $1.93 billion per year to $3.1 billion by 2022.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the figures weren’t made public.

The current agreements expire after the 2013 season.

“(The deals) will ensure the NFL will stay on free television for another 11 years, which I think is great for fans,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said at the owners’ meetings outside Dallas. “It will continue to allow us to grow our audience. It’s a tribute to the players and (union chief DeMaurice) Smith for extending our labor agreement for 10 years. I think that kind of stability gave us the ability to get these contract extensions.”

Earlier this season, the NFL and ESPN reached an eight-year extension to keep “Monday Night Football” on the cable channel through the 2021 season, increasing the rights fee from $1.1 to 1.9 billion annually.

The new contracts also will allow NFL Network to expand the number of Thursday night games it airs beginning next year. The current schedule includes eight games during the second half of the season.

Goodell said the broadcast committee hadn’t yet decided on whether to create a separate Thursday package to sell to an outside network.

NFL games account for 23 of the 25 most-watched programs among all television shows this fall and draw more than twice as many average viewers as broadcast prime-time shows. No wonder network executives piled on the superlatives Wednesday.

“This is incredibly powerful programming,” said NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus.

“It’s as sure as you can get with anything today,” said Fox Sports Co-President Eric Shanks.

“It’s an unbelievably important product to associate ourselves with,” said CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus.

The three networks will each televise three Super Bowls during the length of the contracts, continuing the current rotation.

The nine-year terms are the longest for NFL television agreements with over-the-air networks. The previous longest were the eight-year deals with CBS, Fox and ABC from 1998-2005.

“With live broadcasts becoming more and more important, having the cream of the crop of live programing for the next 11 years is pretty incredible,” Shanks said.

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