By Meg James
After sitting on the sidelines for a few seasons, the Fox broadcast network has scored the rights to the NFL's Thursday Night Football franchise.
The NFL and Fox announced the five-year partnership Wednesday morning, providing Fox with 11 weeks of Thursday night games beginning this fall. Fox will air the Week 4 through Week 15 games, with the exception of Thanksgiving night. The games will be simulcast on the NFL Network and the Spanish-language Fox Deportes channel.
The deal is part of Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox's aggressive push to transform itself into an even bigger sports powerhouse in anticipation of a sale of key assets to the Walt Disney Co. Murdoch has envisioned remolding the broadcast network to be built on live events, particularly sports and news.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell declined to say how much Fox paid for the rights, which the company nabbed in a bidding contest with the other broadcast networks. However, the annual fee is probably more than the $450 million that CBS and NBC collectively paid for the Thursday night games last year.
"We are thrilled to have a deep partnership with Fox," Goodell said during an early-morning conference call.
"This agreement is the culmination of over 10 years of strategic growth around "Thursday Night Football," a period during which this property has grown from a handful of late-season games on the NFL Network to a full season of games and one of the most popular shows on broadcast television," Goodell said in a statement announcing the deal.
"Fundamentally Fox was built on football," Fox President Peter Rice said. "This is a unique opportunity – it's a partnership that we love."
In addition to the games that run on Fox, the NFL Network will exclusively televise seven games next season. The package allows Fox Sports and the NFL to each expand its digital rights, enabling Fox to distribute both Thursday Night Football and its Sunday games to FOX subscribers over a range of digital platforms including mobile phones for the first time.