NBC, CBS and Fox recently renewed their NFL contracts through the 2022 season, with annual bumps in rights fees that will bring the total revenue generated by those deals from nearly $2 billion per year to more than $3 billion. In September, ESPN kept “Monday Night Football” through the 2021 season, increasing its annual payments from $1.1 billion to $1.9 billion.
“In a society where we are busier and busier every day and every year, having appointment television, with everyone knowing what time they get to see the product, is something the NFL has done and nobody else has. Other sports still … are on at different times,” said David Schwab, who specializes in matching brands with celebrities as managing director at Octagon First Call.
“From September to January, every Sunday, that’s when football comes. That’s a huge advantage,” Schwab said. “Every Sunday at 1 o’clock, 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock have become what NBC Thursday nights used to be: `Must See TV.’”
There’s really no competition at all from other leagues.
The most recent edition of The Harris Poll, released last week, asked about 2,200 adults who follow at least one sport what their favorite is, and 36 percent chose professional football. Next up were baseball and college football _ at 13 percent apiece.
That gap represents quite a jump from only a year earlier, when pro football topped baseball 31-17. So much for the notion that the “millionaires vs. billionaires” showdown over more than $9 billion in annual revenues would turn off fans.
“It’s absolutely No. 1 in sports,” Schwab said. “First of all, they put on the best quality product in live entertainment in this country. And the fan base is incredibly large and passionate. With passion comes support and tickets and merchandise and concessions. And that gets the eyeballs of brands and advertisers. So it’s a cycle.”
Certainly doesn’t hurt to have the sort of stability in leadership the NFL has enjoyed.
The league announced last week that owners voted to extend Commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract to March 2019. As it is, the NFL’s had only two other commissioners since 1960.
“The other thing they’ve done quite brilliantly is they’ve made it a 12-month business. The NFL is in the public consciousness 12 months of the year, whether you’re going through the season, then off into draft preparation, the combine, the draft, (free agency in) the summer,” NBC’s Lazarus said. “There really is no offseason, for the how fan looks at it.”
Pilson offered another reason for the NFL’s always-rising fortunes: gambling, including fantasy football.
“They feed the meter,” he said. “They create interest in not just the outcome, but also the process. Gambling isn’t just who wins and loses; it’s the over-under, the third-quarter score.”
Giants owner John Mara, meanwhile, offered a simple, on-the-field explanation for the sport’s success.
“Look at how compelling the games are, week in and week out,” Mara said. “That’s why we’re where we are today.”
So soon after a potentially disastrous work stoppage, its first since 1987, the NFL is back in business and bigger than ever.