Fox to broadcast Thursday Night Football for next five seasons

Thursday Night Football is changing networks once again.

The NFL announced Wednesday morning that the package will go to Fox for the next five seasons. Sources say the contract -- which entitles Fox to broadcast 11 games on Thursday each season from Week 4 to Week 15, not including Thanksgiving night -- is worth an average of more than $660 million a year.

Despite losing exclusivity as a result of having a broadcast partner in the NFL Network, the value of Thursday Night Football has continued to increase.

"We feel very confident in their ability to continue to grow this franchise," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said on a Wednesday morning conference call.

CBS paid $37.5 million per game for eight games during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. For the past two seasons, NBC joined CBS to broadcast five games each at a cost of $45 million. The new deal values each game at an average of more than $60 million.

"We thought making a long-term commitment was in the best interest of our product and the ownership group," said New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, the chairman of the league's broadcast committee.

Fox gets expanded digital highlight rights as part of the deal.

"NFL football continues to be the most valuable commodity in all of media," said Peter Rice, president of 21st Century Fox.

Digital rights to Thursday Night Football games have also exponentially increased. Amazon paid $50 million this past season to stream the games on Amazon Prime, up from the $10 million Twitter paid in 2016. Rights for the upcoming season have not yet been sold. Goodell said this will be done in the next couple of weeks, in partnership with Fox, and the league has seen "unprecedented competition" in this area.

Players have long argued that Thursday Night Football games make it harder to stay healthy due to shorter rest.

"Guys don't have time to recover," Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin said after teammate Richard Sherman ruptured his Achilles tendon during a Thursday night game in November. "Hard to recover in four days. ... Thursday Night Football should be illegal."

League data in 2016 showed that an average of 6.3 injuries per game were sustained on Thursday night versus 6.5 for games played on Sunday. But in results the league revealed last week, Thursday Night Football had a higher injury rate (6.9 injuries per game to 6.3) for the 2017 season. League officials say the difference is not statistically noteworthy.

"We will continue to work with the NFLPA to make the shorter week more attractive in a way that is better for our players," Goodell said. "Our players are unanimous in that they love the 10 days after the Thursday night game. There are different views, as we know, and we will do everything we can to have the best outcome as possible."

NFL ratings for the regular season were down 9.7 percent this season after an 8 percent drop in 2016. A typical game was watched by 14.9 million viewers, or 1.6 million fewer people this season as compared to last season (16.5 million). Despite the drop in NFL ratings, Nielsen data shows that the 20 of the 30 highest-rated shows on television in 2017 were football games.

Fox has been broadcasting NFC games on Sundays since 1994. It currently pays $1.1 billion a year to broadcast those games through the 2022 season.