NBC Sports chair says NFL won’t bail on broadcast despite new digital bidders

NFL ratings remains an underlying concern for all distributors working the league.

NEW YORK—Amazon, Facebook and other companies could compete for NFL Thursday Night rights, but NBC Sports doesn’t seem worried that the league will ditch broadcast for digital platforms.

Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports, told the audience today at the TV2020 Conference at NAB in New York that the rights for Thursday Night Football on broadcast could enter the discussion stage within the next 60 to 90 days. Last year, NBC became a broadcast partner along with CBS for part of last season as well as the 2017-2018 season.

Lazarus admitted that Amazon and Facebook could end up competing with broadcasters for the rights but said that, ultimately, he expects the NFL will recognize the value broadcast brings the league.

“I don’t believe abandonment of broadcast is in the best interest of any sport,” Lazarus said, noting that the audiences are still fairly small for NFL digital efforts on Amazon or recent exclusive streams on Yahoo.

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Speaking about the terms the new NFL Thursday Night deal could land, Lazarus said it could serve as a bell weather for televised sports rights overall but stopped short of saying that sports rights costs had become overly expensive.

“We’ve been saying we’re reaching a tipping point for 40 years but we still haven’t reached it yet,” Lazarus said.

Of course, NFL ratings remains an underlying concern for all distributors working the league, and Lazarus said he thought the National Anthem protests were contributing to falling viewership.

“What’s going on now in the NFL is divisive and, in my mind, has pushed some people away from the sport,” said Lazarus, adding that he also worries that broadcasters are training people to follow sports rather watch sports.