20 December 2015

What does the future hold for Thursday Night Football?

We are still years away from the conclusion of the current NFL television contract but the newest piece of the NFL broadcasting pie will be on the market this winter. Thursday Night Football has been an entity for almost a decade now but now after two seasons of a partnership with CBS, allowing the package to show viability on broadcast television after many years on NFL Network, the rights are poised to hit the market next month.

Here's some information from the great John Ourand:
The NFL has told TV networks that it is ready to accept bids for the “Thursday Night Football” package that, once again, will be for just two years, according to several sources. The league last week sent formal RFPs to the usual TV partners and outlets -- CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC and Turner -- that outlined the NFL’s plan to sell a one-year deal with a league option for a second year. The league also sent RFPs to several digital companies, like Google, Yahoo, Apple and Amazon, to stream the entire Thursday night schedule on a non-exclusive basis, sources said. The league’s initial plan would have the digital streams serve as a simulcast of the television production -- with the same ads and in-game production features. The league expects bidding to start in the low $300M for the television package, with a nominal escalator in year two, sources said. CBS currently is paying around $300M per season for the Thursday night package. 
It had been reported by some that the NFL was looking for a long-term deal that would sync up with the conclusion of the current NFL television deal (2021 for ESPN, 2022 for CBS, Fox and NBC) but now it looks more like what CBS initially signed up for which was one season with an option for a second.

The streaming is a new aspect of this part of the package and it is clear that in the wake of the relatively successful streaming of Jaguars-Bills from London earlier this season on Yahoo, the league is intrigued by online streaming. However, Bloomberg reported that the league is not ready to exclusively stream games over the course of the season:
Aside from any wariness the NFL has about undermining relationships with traditional television distributors, the people who run the league aren’t convinced that the Internet can handle live streaming on the scale of pro football. Many Internet infrastructure companies agree, a reminder that technical challenges could be a major obstacle to a future where the Web eats TV.
But selling the streaming rights alongside the television rights makes sense as it allows the league to analyze the kind of viewership that the streams keep for higher quality matchups in primetime, instead of low quality contests on Sunday morning.

Also, a key piece of this new contract will be regarding NFL Network. The league has made it clear that their network will not only simulcast games that carried on the winning network but also exclusively carry eight games that will be produced by the winner. Also, SBD reports this:
The RFP asks TV companies to outline a plan for how they would grow NFL Network should they win the package, through promotional efforts and added reach. At least one network exec floated the idea of potentially bidding to take over the channel’s cable carriage negotiations as a way to grow the network, but an NFL source said that is not what the league means by “growing" the network.
The exclusive games are critical to the network considering that carrying games is a key piece of their carriage contracts with the cable providers and now as cord-cutting is starting to become a problem for cable networks (take a look at what it's been doing to ESPN), solidifying said network is now a priority going forward.

Regarding as to who could win the package, it is important to note that the NFL cared about more than just the highest bidder when determining the partner two years ago. CBS was able to win the TNF rights because they were willing to not only take over production of all contests, including those exclusively on NFL Network, but to have their top announcing team (Jim Nantz and Phil Simms) do every game. The other networks were not willing to make that commitment, and thus CBS won the rights. Now after two years with CBS, will the league be more willing to take the highest bidder regardless of what they bring to the table?

In the end, and despite talk that NBC will go hard after these rights, I still expect CBS to retain the rights. They have been a pretty good partner for the NFL for Thursdays these past two seasons and I think that gives them the inside track to keep the rights. That said, if one of the other networks blows them out of the water in the bidding, that familiarity may just go out the window.


  1. It's true CBS has done a good job of promoting TNF and probably deserve to retain the rights. That said the actual concept of TNF is flawed for a number of reasons. Recovery time from having smashed your body to pieces is insufficient, as is strategic planning and play-making for coaches and tacticians alike. I don't think stadia have been as full as they would be for the same fixture on a Sunday and the atmosphere at TNF games always seems to be rather muted. Then again (through misfortune I guess) quite a few of the match-ups have been rather unattractive (I realise there is an obligation for all teams to play) and unappetising. Friday Night Football would add zest to the ambience in the stadia but the NFL won't consider this due to High School Football I suppose. $300+M is a lot of cash for often unattractive match-ups and a likely low rating for a national network...

  2. I would love to see ESPN win the rights. They have the means to produce every aspect of the game internally. I enjoyed the games with Brad Nessler calling them. Jim Nantz is good, but he is very boring.

  3. I would love to see ESPN win the rights. They have the means to produce every aspect of the game internally. I enjoyed the games with Brad Nessler calling them. Jim Nantz is good, but he is very boring.

  4. ESPN already is spending a lot of $$$$ on "Monday Night Football", let alone one of the first NFL Wildcard games on its air. It's believed they overspent to keep the NFL, which may also explain why there have been some high-profile layoffs in an effort to make ends meet. ESPN already airs college football opposite "Thursday Night Football". If CBS Sports doesn't keep "TNF" with NFL Network, I think NBCSN might be the network to get the package.

    1. From a programming standpoint, I think NBCSN could use the "Thursday Night Football" package in an effort to continue building its 24/7 network beyond just the NHL & NASCAR. Believe it or not, NBC Sports Network is available in more U.S. homes than NFL Network. NBCSN is available in 81.5 million U.S. homes compared to 71.8 million for NFLN. Despite all the promos, I think there are still cable systems that won't carry NFLN to this day, even with a network partner like CBS teaming up.