According to Sports Business Daily, the NFL is asking for bids for their Thursday Night Football package by early January. Currently, NBC and CBS splits the broadcast rights with Amazon streaming the broadcasts. The NFL has said that the package could be sold as a whole or split. The league also shared that they could sell the rights to a digital service. ESPN has not seriously bid on the package as they would be unable to raise the amount they charge the cable companies to offset the rights fees.
But with ESPN launching their ESPN Plus streaming service next year, would they consider buying the rights to jump-start their subscriber base. That being said, would the NFL approve a deal that would force fans to subscribe to another service? Currently, any game that is on cable must be sold to local channels in the participating teams’ market. Presumably the same requirement would remain in place for any cable network or streaming service that wins the rights.
Another option would be for ABC to gain the rights to fill some gaps left by Shonda Rhimes departing the network for Netflix. But just as Disney is developing some marquee programming to jumpstart their streaming service in 2019, one can understand that ESPN would be searching for a way to generate attention to their first direct-to-consumer offering. With the service set to launch next year, what would be more attention-grabbing than the most popular sports league in the United States. If Disney’s streaming ambition is to compete with the likes of Amazon and Netflix, they will have to make big moves like the internet companies do. And big moves, rarely come cheap.