The NFL changed Thursday Night Football from a cable-only operation to a part-cable-only, part-broadcast-simulcast package in order to reach a larger audience (and to make more money) with its late-week prime-time game. For the next five years, there’s a chance that some of those broadcast simulcasts will end up being cable simulcasts.
John Ourand of SportsBusiness Journal reports that up to two of the 2018 Thursday night games scheduled for FOX could be bumped to FS1 due to potential conflicts with World Series games. Those conflicts would arise if late-October weather impacts baseball’s championship round.
A problem would arise if one of the early games results in a World Series contest shifting to Thursday, October 25. If that happens, Dolphins-Texans would move from broadcast to cable. And any delay of any game could result in Game Seven moving from Wednesday, October 31 to Thursday, November 1, forcing Raiders-49ers off of the parent network.
Regardless of the chances of a conflict occurring (the geography of the games and, obviously, the weather will determine this one), it’s something that could happen in any of the five years that TNF will be televised by FOX. And while the NFL surely knew about the possibility before doing the deal — and undoubtedly won’t be getting any less money if it happens — a risk remains that the games will generate much lower ratings if they are moved from broadcast to cable. While that can be explained away easily if it happens, the fact remains that fewer people will have seen games that the league clearly wants as many people as possible to see.
Of course, there’s a much more important question arising from this situation: Why would the NFL lose a showdown with baseball? Yes, it’s the World Series. But pro football remains king (despite those who would love that it not be), and the past 60 years have proven that, in the rock-scissors-paper game that is the American sports landscape, the NFL is all three.