By Ross Crowell, Law Library GRA Sports Law Correspondent
Watching primetime NFL games on television will probably look a bit different during the 2022 season. Fox, CBS, NBC, ESPN, and Amazon are all trying to figure out who they will have announcing their games during this upcoming football season. These multi-million dollar broadcasting contracts are legally complex, implicating different areas such as Contract Law, Employment Law, Media Law. There are also potential Antitrust Law implications, since the NFL and its television broadcasters are regulated by the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961, which grants a limited exemption to the Sherman Act permitting the various teams to enter into joint broadcasting agreements despite their anticompetitive effects.
The biggest shift relates to increased importance of streaming rights. Amazon has shaken things up being a new player in this business, as they now have the exclusive rights to stream 15 Thursday Night Football games for the 2022 season on Amazon Prime.
The networks’ broadcast booths will be playing musical chairs, as many of the biggest names will be on the move. Some top broadcasters that are potentially leaving networks are Troy Aikman (Fox), Al Michaels (NBC), Louis Riddick (ESPN), and Brian Griese (ESPN). Riddick is being considered for NFL general manager positions and Griese, whose contract expired after the 2021 season, will reportedly become the San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach. Aikman, who reportedly will become the new color analyst for Monday Night Football at ESPN, has broadcasted for Fox for 20 years, spending 19 of those with broadcast partner Joe Buck. Aikman’s reported deal will be for five years and close to $18 million annually.
In addition to current broadcasters, some big-name former players are also in consideration for these roles. Recently retired 7-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady reportedly will be contacted by Amazon and Fox to gauge his interest in broadcasting. Drew Brees, who led the New Orleans Saints to a Super Bowl, was on television last season for NBC and could be poached by one of the competing networks.
However, Brees only has one year of experience on television and Brady has not broadcasted any games, as he retired just over a month ago. As these contracts for broadcasters rival what the top players in the NFL are paid, it is a bit of a risk to hire someone with inexperience. However, the names of Brees and Brady likely will draw in many fans that would want to tune in to their broadcasts. The networks will have to carefully weigh these various considerations when negotiating these complex employment contracts.