Study: How NFL Strike May Affect TV Networks’ Ratings, Bottom Line

According to Moody’s Investors Service, ESPN will be the “least affected financially, despite its reliance on sports,” should football games be canceled next season.

If an NFL work stoppage causes the cancellation of games next season, the biggest threat to television networks could be the loss of audiences that tune in early or stick around after each contest, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report Monday.

Moody’s said that loss of these “lead-in” and “lead-out” audiences is hard to quantify but “is considerable and will be their biggest challenge.”

The firm also said that ESPN “is probably the least affected financially, despite its reliance on sports.” That’s partially because fans will tune in there to see whatever has taken the place of the NFL, and ESPN wouldn’t have to pay big money for game rights – or perhaps pay the fees but get them back later.

DirecTV, which has the only exclusive arrangement for access to every NFL game, won’t be hurt financially short term, but a lack of NFL games could weigh on its net subscriber additions, Moody’s said.

Local CBS, Fox and NBC affiliates could stand to lose the most given that they don’t normally bear any direct cash cost for NFL programming, so the games are highly profitable.

Collective bargaining between the players and the NFL ended Friday, leading the NFL Players Association to file for decertification. That allowed 10 players, including Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, to file antitrust lawsuits against the league in a bid to prevent a lockout.

Janney Capital Markets analyst Tony Wible said Monday that these latest developments “imply there is greater risk to the upcoming NFL season, which is harmful for TV rights holders.”