Fox and the NFL have agreed to a five-year deal for Thursday night football games.
Those games previously were televised by CBS and NBC, two of the league's other network partners. Fox announced Wednesday that it will televise 11 games between Weeks 4 and 15, with simulcasts on NFL Network and Fox Deportes.
Fox, which has the Sunday afternoon NFC package, will produce all of the games under the deal, which is worth a little more than $3 billion, according to a person with direct knowledge of the terms of the deal who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the league didn't announce its value. The deal provides Fox with the second highest-rated broadcast in primetime, according to Advertising Age.
"This is a single partner deal, we are not splitting the package," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a conference call. "We had tremendous amount of interest from all the broadcast partners, all of whom wanted it exclusively. We felt this was the best opportunity for the NFL to grow the Thursday night package."
Goodell added that the league is exploring partnerships with digital outlets, also in conjunction with Fox.
The NFL has broadcast deals "five years out" with its other partners — ESPN has the Monday night package — so five years on this agreement made sense.
"Fundamentally, Fox was built on football," said Peter Rice, president of 21st Century Fox, nothing that 25 years ago, the NFC package "helped launch a fledgling network into what it is today."
"These opportunities come along very, very infrequently," he added. "You either have the rights to the most-watched content in media or you don't. If you don't take the opportunity, this won't come up again for five years. We believe in buying the very best rights, and the best rights are the NFL."
CBS and NBC each paid $450 million for the previous two-year package.
"We explored a responsible bid for Thursday Night Football but in the end are very pleased to return to entertainment programming on television's biggest night," CBS said in a statement. "At the same time, we look forward to continuing our terrific long-term partnership with the NFL on Sunday afternoons, with more than 100 games per season including next year's Super Bowl 53."
Fox could have a conflict if weather causes a World Series game to be postponed from Wednesday to Thursday. In recent years, Series Game 2 and 6 have been scheduled for Wednesday.
"In that hypothetical kind of a scenario, the World Series game would stay on Fox and our Thursday night game would become an FS1/NFL Network simulcast," Fox spokesman Eddie Motl said.
Goodell noted that the Thursday night games are a place for innovation.
"One of the things we've taken into consideration with Thursday night in general is to evolve this package, to use it as an opportunity to learn, to understand where these various platforms are going, and what we can do to make it a more attractive experience for our fans," he said. "We will look at that in that context, and the term will be consistent with what it will take to make sure that we continue to evolve that platform as well as the experience for our fans."
That means streaming outlets, of course.
"We have accepted bids for digital partners," Goodell said. "We have very healthy competition. In fact, I would say it's unprecedented competition from a number of digital partners.
"As I say, we put our focus on the broadcast package first. ... We are not required to go coterminous with the broadcasts. We can do any length of deal that we get to an agreement on with that digital partner. As I mentioned earlier, we will be doing this in cooperation with our Fox partners."