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.