Last week, Chris Mortensen of ESPN reported that a new labor deal would include a 16-game Thursday night package, which would launch in 2012. ESPN thereafter revised the report without explanation, pointing out that the new package would launch in 2014. Others said the same thing, citing the fact that the current TV deals extend through 2013, which would keep the league from taking games away from the CBS and FOX Sunday afternoon packages.
John Ourand and Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal now report that ESPN may have been right in the first place. Per SBJ, the league already is shopping an eight-game Thursday night package, which would be paired with the existing NFL Network late-season slate of games. (And that’s very good news for NFLN, which has been trying for five seasons and counting to leverage eight late-season games into maximum presence on non-premium cable packages.)
Ourand and Kaplan report that the league already has the right to peel back the games from CBS and FOX. Though this surely would result in a decrease in the CBS and FOX rights fees, any new revenue (approximately $700 million) easily would be offset by the reduction in revenue from CBS and FOX.
We’ve got a feeling that the net gain is a lot closer to $700 million than zero.
Early bidders for the new package, according to SBJ, are Turner and Comcast. Turner would put the games on TBS, TNT, or truTV. Comcast likely would place the games on Versus. ESPN and Spike TV also are possibilities.
Regardless of where the package lands, a Thursday night cash grab is coming, probably sooner rather than later. With the league needing to expand the pie and the players unwilling to play two extra games, this is the next best way to get more milk without further stretching the udder.