NFL preparing to take bids on Thursday night package

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It’s the first Thursday night since Week Two without Thursday Night Football. When the series returns on Thursdays in 2018 (a couple of non-Thursday night 2017 Thursday games are coming over the Christmas weekend), it could look a lot different.

Via John Ourand of SportsBusiness Daily, the NFL wants bids for 2018 by early January. The existing package, split for broadcast and production purposes between CBS and NBC, covered only 2016 and 2017.

The total slate currently includes 18 annual Thursday Night Football games, most of which are televised on (duh) Thursday. Per the report, the NFL is willing to consider major changes to the package.

The league may have little choice. FOX CEO James Murdoch has suggested that Thursday games dilute the product on Sundays, prompting an “of course they’d say that, they don’t have part of the package”-style response from the league. But CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus has echoed similar concerns, prompting speculation that CBS may not be interested in continuing its Thursday football programming.

The question is whether and to what extent the broadcast networks are making money from Thursday nights, especially since CBS and NBC have been responsible not only for paying for the rights fees but also for providing the full production for NFL Network-only games. And that leads to the ultimate question: Will they keep paying for it?

It’s possible, in theory, that the TNF package will shrink, with the league retaining the seven NFLN-only games per year (which justifies the fee charged to cable operators and satellite providers for the channel) on Thursdays and late-season Saturdays and a smaller slate of Thursday games being peppered throughout the season. This could potentially allow the league to schedule for Thursdays only those teams that had the prior Sunday off, addressing once and for all concerns from some players, coaches, media, and fans regarding the safety consequences of playing on Sunday and then again on Thursday.

However it plays out, the NFL currently makes $450 million per year from the CBS/NBC Thursday deal, along with (supposedly) $50 million in 2017 from Amazon for digital streaming. (We’ve heard the Amazon number has been puffed up.) Depending on the number of interested networks and the final structure of the deal, the pie could end up shrinking on Thursdays — which could in turn cause the pie to grow on other days.

10 responses to “NFL preparing to take bids on Thursday night package

  1. If none of the networks bid, that would leave the NFL to have to produce the games themselves, something they don’t have the same level of expertise in doing. Maybe then, the NFL will conclude TNF isn’t worth it.

    There should be just two Thursday night games… the season opener for the defending champion, and Thanksgiving night. Giving Dallas and/or Detroit an additional Thursday game the week after Thanksgiving gives them a later-season half-bye they don’t deserve.

  2. TNF isn’t worth a half-billion.
    To put that in context; Vince McMahon just cashed in $100 million to start a league, while the NFL cashed in $500 million for the rights to broadcast a few games of the lousiest version of the product available.

  3. Move the Thursday night games to Saturday evenings. This is the best way, IMO. That’s why I love the late season games more – full weekend slate of NFL.

  4. The league will do what it does, but I agree with many that have said it’s not enough recovery time particularly late in the season. Go to Saturday night. If college wants to compete with prime time, that’s their problem.

  5. I’m more and more starting to believe Thursday Night has played its way out of existence. If league is that obsessed with whatever extra revenue it generates, then it will piggyback more Monday Night doubleheaders.

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