NFL’s plans for new Thursday package is not without challenges
The NFL is finally putting into motion its plan to create another television package.
The league is asking for proposals from interested networks for a new Thursday night package of games. Currently, the NFL Network carries 13 Thursday games. One of the scenarios being considered is to take eight games away from the NFL Network to create the new package.
The NFL has made no secret about its interest in pursuing this. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times last October, NFL executive Steve Bornstein said, "We constantly think about how to reformulate our packages to maximize them," in response to a question about adding another network to the league’s mix.
While the NFL wants to create another revenue stream, it can’t strip the NFL Network of all its Thursday games. If it were to do that, the cable and satellite operators that pay almost $1.50 per-subscriber, per-month for the network, according to SNL Kagan, could seek or be entitled to a reduction in fees.
The obvious candidates for a new Thursday package are cable channels include NBC Sports Network, Fox Sports 1, CBS Sports Network and TNT. Less likely is a broadcast network such as ABC entering the fray. ABC is a sister network to Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN and thus has plenty of football. The cable sports assets owned by NBC, Fox and CBS would also benefit more from football than their broadcast networks, which already have games.
The league is tiptoeing into this and may not seek the type of long-term deal it has with ESPN, Fox, CBS and NBC. While the NFL loves its TV money, it also doesn’t want to completely undercut the asset it is building with the NFL Network.
If the NFL does go forward and get a new TV partner, it will have to put more enticing games on Thursday night than what it has offered the NFL Network. Not only are there concerns about the quality of play on Thursday, since the NFL has said every team ideally will only play once on Thursday, coming up with compelling matches has also been a challenge and the ratings have often reflected that.
At the same time, the NFL has to be careful that it doesn’t deprive Fox, CBS and NBC — its biggest customers — of too many big ticket games or there could be blowback.
One way the league could smooth over any concerns from its big broadcast partners (and make even more cash) would be to add more playoff games, which is something under consideration. The downside to that though is that many fans think letting more teams into the postseason would further dilute the quality of play.
That said, the NFL has shown time and time again that if they build it, we will come.