The biggest news to come out of Tuesday’s ownership meeting in Chicago was, in our assessment, Chris Mortensen’s report that the new CBA will include a 16-game Thursday night TV package. (The other items of significance, like the 48-cent share for players, four years to free agency, and a minimum cash spend in excess of 90 percent of the salary cap arguably are as important, but none was unexpected.) Though Commissioner Roger Goodell downplayed the Thursday night package in remarks to the media — and ESPN softened it from “will” to “could” — it seems inevitable that the pie will be grown via the sale of Thursday night prime-time pro football.
Howard Balzer of 101sports.com and The Sports Xchange is among those who believe the Thursday night package is part of the puzzle, and he has provided some numbers that make it even more likely that, in time, the NFL’s evening habit will extend to a third night each week.
Given that the addition of two games was expected to add $500 million per year, Balzer points out that the Thursday night package could do even more, without adding a single game. With ESPN reportedly poised to spend close to $2 billion per year for Monday Night Football, a full-season Thursday night package could be worth at least $1 billion annually. And even if, as many believe, half of the Thursday night package would be retained by NFL Network, the $500 million from the two extra regular-season games would come from the Thursday night games.
Balzer also raises a point that ESPN later clarified. With the current TV contracts in place until 2013, the earliest date for the implementation of the Thursday night package could be 2014, given that the games will come from the CBS and FOX Sunday afternoon inventory. To get the deal done before 2014, the CBS and FOX contracts would have to be reopened and extended, like they were in 2009 when the NFL expanded the Red Zone concept from DirecTV to cable (and also beefed up the “lockout insurance” language).
Put simply, if the league wants to implement a full slate of Thursday night games by 2012, it can be done. And it would result in the commencement of a significant cash infusion, a couple of years before the new TV deals were expected to be done.