Will networks keep paying big money for Thursday Night Football?

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NFL players who don’t like Thursday Night Football possibly will be getting what they’re wishing for. Even if it means far less money for NFL players.

Before I continue, here are two caveats. First, this item does not in any way, shape, or form reflect the opinions or views or thinking of NBC. I had this idea at 5:26 a.m. ET while trying not to cut my face with a razor and contemplating the strong words that came from the mouth of Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin after Thursday night’s game against the Cardinals, along with the things Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said Thursday morning on PFT Live. Second, I know nothing at all about what NBC plans to do when it comes to the Thursday Night Football package for 2018 or beyond. (Some of you would say that any sentence I write that begins with “I know nothing at all about” would be true.)

At a time when ratings have continued to decline — and when ratings may decline even more given the absence of a 2017 post-election bump — the broadcast networks essentially are stuck, because their contracts with the NFL last through 2022. (ESPN’s deal for Monday Night Football lasts through 2021.) However, as to Thursday Night Football, the two-year, $900 million package split by CBS and NBC ends this year.

So what happens with Thursday Night Football in 2018? Will the major networks want to pay that kind of money for it, if they even want it at all? FOX apparently isn’t inclined to jump in the mix, and recent comments from CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus suggest that maybe his network has cooled on the $225 million annual investment for the right to televise five games and to foot the full bill for the TV presentation of multiple other Thursday games on NFL Network. At $225 million per network per year, that’s $45 million per Thursday night game (roughly $15 million per hour of programming) along with production expenses for cast and crew.

Will CBS and NBC want to re-up for $45 million per game, with the metrics dropping significantly in the two years since the last deal was done? If not, will other networks want to step in? Beyond the overall drop in audience of 5.5 percent through nine weeks of 2017, the reduction in the key 18-49 demographic was nine percent from 2016 to 2017 and a whopping 23 percent from 2015 to 2017.

Put another way, the primary money-spending audience has declined by nearly a fourth since CBS and NBC decided to fork over $900 million for two years of TNF. Surely, that will have an impact on the financial considerations that any network will assess before agreeing to invest $45 million per game or more for Thursday Night Football in 2018.

So even if the NFL doesn’t want TNF to GFO, there’s a chance someone else will make the decision for the league. Which will take $450 million per year out of the mix for the league and players to (roughly) share. Which works out to (roughly) $7 million per team in reduced cap space. Which equates to an average (roughly) financial loss of $132,000 per player.

And, by the way, that doesn’t mean short-week Thursday Night Football would disappear. It would, at worst, go back to being an NFL Network-only enterprise, and it would be staged only part of the year, in order to justify the fees paid for the privilege of including in a cable/satellite package a league-owned network that still hasn’t taken off the way that it arguably should have.

However it plays out, what the players want definitely doesn’t matter. But what the league wants may not matter, either, if it can’t find a partner that will pay big money to continue including NFL football in its Thursday night lineup.

27 responses to “Will networks keep paying big money for Thursday Night Football?

  1. Get rid of it, accept for Thanksgiving. Football doesn’t feel special anymore, it used to be an event MNF was special, an occasional Thursday game was special, now it all just feels just like another game that’s clumped together with the rest

  2. I can’t wait for the next TV deal to be a massive reduction and the players and owners to gasp aloud as contracts get cut in half and suddenly practice squad guys are making minimum wage.

    When dying at 60 not knowing who the people in the room are is no longer worth the millions they earn, do you think they’ll get off their knees and stop acting like children?

  3. I haven’t watched in years.

    I’m down to watching one game a week, the game of the week on at 4:30.

  4. The players consider themselves partners with the NFL, but they don’t understand that eliminating Thursday night games will mean far less money to split up.

    No worry though, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before they say they want the money but not the games.

    Partners, SMH.

  5. 1) People have to work on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. There’s a hint.
    2) Due to the dreary progress of play, people are tired of watching commercial after commercial, the stream broken only by a few seconds of game play.
    3) Every flag, play, sneeze, conversation, fart, and any other event is over-analyzed by the broadcast crew. Stop that. Show us the cheerleaders more.
    4) Stop breaking to the NY studio for every burp in every other game.
    5) When the game ends for the specific market being broadcast, do NOT switch to the final 75 seconds of an out of market game just to broadcast football. Stop that too.
    6) Institute a lifetime ban for players CONVICTED IN A COURT OF LAW of felony behavior.
    7) Prohibit the NFL from hearing, punishment, etc. until any court case has resulted in a verdict of guilty.

    Fix these things and ratings will probably start to go back up.

  6. I really hope this downward spiral continues. It seems like the players these days are a bunch of whiny babies. Too bad these guys are ruining the gravy train for future generations. They will learn that people pay to watch you play football and no one cares about your politics, your stupid haircut or how much money you think you deserve for playing a child’s game..

  7. Personally, I dont think it was a post election bump. I think ratings rose because people care more about the second half of the season and the playoffs.

    If the NFL wants to help ratings, they should allow 4 games on Sunday afternoon. If I am stuck with a terrible first game on Sunday afternoon, the TV may be off for the rest of the day.

  8. Get rid of the stupid thing. Low quality games with too many injuries, or too many guys missing because they’re banged up from the week before but could have played if it were a Sunday. Keep the Thursday night opener, and give teams byes before Thanksgiving. Can’t pretend to care about safety and force two games in five days.

  9. The answer is no…and yes.
    The NFL will attach it to some other package. Think paying full price for preseason games. You have to pay it to get your season tickets.

  10. I think I’ve watched 1 Thursday Night game this year.
    On the other hand I’ve cut back on the games that I watch by 50%.
    There are just not many games worth watching.

  11. The NFL is still the ratings king of cable TV. The NFL piece of the cable pie has not decreased, the pie has. Less football will just accelerate the shrinking of cable TV.

    Cable TV is going to lose subscribers next year whether they show football or not. The question is will they lose more money by retaining some customers and paying for football or by paying nothing and lose more customers.

    This is why cable providers agressively use their lawyers to keep high speed internet all to themselves. High speed internet costs more and is slower than other parts of the world because internet is cable’s new cash cow.

  12. Get rid of Thursday night, Sunday night games. Get rid of international games.
    Cut the advertising during games…a one hour game should take no more than two and a half hours max to play…start Monday night games earlier but the greedy owners would never agree to the above…like the players, they piss the bed (fans) and wonder why the decline…

  13. This isn’t, never has been brain surgery. Sit down with union and negotiate using only teams that didn’t play the previous Sunday! In other words, redefine the “bye week”. The bye week is the issue, and it was never intended to be a god given gift to the players, though it ended up that way by the time the union got their hands on the ‘asset’.

    The bye week can easily be redefined as when a team plays two games over three weekends, thus Sunday, then 11 days later (on Thursday), then 10 days later on Sunday.
    The players union will resist the idea, for the sake of negotiating. The players will absolutely love the idea–as will the fans who will now see PREPARED teams in far better form competing in the Thursday games.

  14. Assuming that Thursday night games increase injury probability, the issue for the league becomes one of risk/reward. Is approximately $450 million a year worth the risk of injury to key business assets, i.e., the players?

  15. If the league is playing games, a network will pay to show them. That’s not even a question. The question is how much will they be willing to pay?

    As someone in the eastern time zone, if the game’s not compelling, I go to bed at halftime because I work a normal job on Friday. I realize they can’t start too much earlier without risking the loss of the west coast audience, but I would guess the full-game ratings would be better if they didn’t start so late in the evening.

  16. I can’t wait to hear the players complain when the salary cap goes down if the Thursday night games go away. The next TV deals will be very interesting too. I suspect the networks are going to want a discount over what they are paying now. If that happens, the salary cap will take a hit and players will likewise get an economic haircut. Let’s see how they like that.

  17. It’s a bad product. Kill it. If Jerry Jones really cared about the league instead of one of his players getting suspended, he would have been suing the league over this. He thought Roger was doing a great job up until then, which tells you all you need to know about this new breed of owner and why the league’s quality is so bad. They’ve been all in on all of these horrible ideas as long as they get a couple of more dollars in the short term.

  18. Send more games, and the money generated, to London and Mexico. American’s love when you give away jobs and money to other countries.

  19. Can the Color Rush!
    I don’t know which Executives WIFE put that bug in his ear, but it is STUPID and an insult to the teams AND fans!

  20. So tired of Sherman, Bennett, Baldwin and Lynch telling us what they think. They are just a bunch af attention seekers. I pay for the nfl chanel and direct tv to be entertained some defensive guy hit these guys and entertain me!!!!

  21. Let me make this real easy for you. Thursday night TV ratings had a clear winner. The Big Bang Theory which is only a half hour show came in second with a rating of 2.7 Thursday Night Football which lasts 3 hours crushed those with a rating of 11.4

    It’s really simple to say NFL ratings are down year to year for whatever reason anyone wants to attribute it to, but what matters is its competition as is all TV ratings…

  22. Thursday Night Football is most-exciting when you get great match-ups, such as next Thursday (November 16)’s match-up between Titans/Steelers, read: see Marcus run into the end zone for a score; see Big Ben throw-down-to-Brown for a score.

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