Carey: The NFL Is a ‘Double-Edged Sword’

News Corp. COO talks pigskin at UBS

As Fox works to finalize an eight-year renewal of its rights deal with the National Football League, the executive who cuts the checks at News Corp. acknowledged Wednesday that a partnership with the NFL is a “double-edged sword.”

Speaking at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, News Corp. deputy chairman, president and chief operating officer Chase Carey said the NFL provided unparalleled value in an increasingly fragmented media universe, although the rights fees “always make you swallow hard.”

Like CBS Corp. chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves before him, Carey stopped short of confirming that a new deal was in the works. That said, Carey made it clear that fans can look forward to the NFL on Fox through at least 2021. 

“The NFL is a fabulous franchise,” Carey said, adding that ad sales for Fox’s package of 102 Sunday NFC games continue to demonstrate “incredible strength.” Incredible may not be the word for it. According to Wells Fargo estimates, Fox’s NFL slate generates the most ad sales revenue of any league broadcast partner, accounting for some $975 million per year.

By all accounts, that’s money well spent. On Sunday (Dec. 4), Fox set a four-year high with its late national game. The Week 13 window (mostly Packers-Giants) delivered 29.8 million viewers, making it the most watched regular season NFL broadcast since December 2007. Moreover, Fox boasts 10 of the fall’s 20 most watched shows, a roster that includes nine NFL broadcasts and Game 7 of the 2011 World Series.

Fox currently invests $720.3 million per year for the rights to its NFC package. Under a new deal, the network could see its annual payments swell to north of $1 billion—a steal compared to the $1.9 billion a year ESPN agreed to fork over to retain its 17-game Monday Night Football package.

Despite the not-inconsiderable expense of re-upping with the NFL, Carey reiterated that there was little question as to how important pro football is to Fox. “The goal is to have the NFL continue to be a centerpiece of what we do,” he said.

As is the case with NBC and CBS, Fox’s current NFL contract expires at the end of the 2013 season.