By Lisa Richwine
(Reuters) - The National Football League reached deals with the CBS, FOX and NBC broadcast networks that will extend television rights for the games through the 2022 season while substantially increasing payments to the league.
The networks agreed to pay annual increases of about 7 percent on average, a person familiar with the deals said. That will lift yearly rights payments to the NFL from the networks to nearly $3.1 billion in 2022, up from about $1.9 billion in 2013, the person said.
The higher payments, which follow a new contract reached with ESPN in September for Monday night games, reflect the importance of sports and particularly the NFL to TV networks. Sports is almost always watched live by viewers, which is of immense importance to advertisers and separates it from most programming such as dramas and comedies, which are often recorded and watched later.
"Live sports, especially football, drives higher audience ratings than anything else on television in the U.S. So NFL is a very important property for these networks," Morningstar analyst Michael Corty said.
Combined with payments from Walt Disney Co's ESPN and satellite TV provider DirecTV, annual payments to the NFL for televising games will reach about $6 billion annually.
In September, the NFL announced an eight-year, $15.2 billion contract extension with Walt Disney Co's ESPN for Monday Night Football. The deal, which includes additional rights beyond just the TV broadcast, represents a roughly 73 percent increase over the previous contract.
Under the new agreement with broadcasters, CBS will continue to televise AFC Sunday afternoon games, and News Corp's FOX broadcast network will keep the NFC's Sunday afternoon games.
NBC, a unit of Comcast Corp, will again carry Sunday night primetime games and the Thursday night NFL season kickoff game. The network will add an annual Thanksgiving primetime game starting in 2012.
The league, which announced the new agreement the broadcasters on Wednesday, said it will expand the number of Thursday night games on its own NFL Network beginning next year, with the exact number not yet determined.
Each network will air three Super Bowls during the nine-year period.
"These agreements underscore the NFL's unique commitment to broadcast television that no other sport has," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
Network executives noted the NFL's importance to fans and advertisers in their announcements of the deals.
"No other franchise delivers ratings the way an NFL game does," CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves said in a statement.
(Reporting by Soham Chatterjee and Himank Sharma in Bangalore and Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Steve Orlofsky)