Thursday Night Football might be about to undergo a major change in the fall. The NFL is currently negotiating with the television networks over their rights to air the Thursday night contests. The NFL is looking to raise the rights fee and also asking that multiple networks split the games in a move that could be bad news for the networks.
According to The Wall Street Journal, those negotiations have seen the NFL make some interesting demands on the networks, mainly CBS and NBC, for how they want those games handled.
For the past two seasons, CBS has shared a package of Thursday Night Football games with the league-owned NFL Network. That arrangement has been simple enough, but now the league wants to divide the package of games between two broadcast networks, as well as the NFL network. The league’s network already has a stable of Thursday night broadcasts, along with showing all games that air on the networks.
The new deal that the NFL is offering to CBS and NBC would see them each airing five games in the fall. Each of those outings would also be broadcast on the NFL Network, which then carries the rest of the Thursday games alone. Those 10 games would, reportedly, cost up to $600 million. Last fall, $300 million gave CBS the rights to eight games.
In splitting the games up between two networks, the NFL is hoping the demand is so high that those networks will each accept a smaller package of games, while the league makes more money. And, word is that that gamble is likely to pay off, since the networks love the large live audiences that major professional sports bring in for them.
The NFL is also betting that CBS and NBC will be so desperate to air the games that they’ll be willing to accept flexibility from the league on how those 10 games are divided among them. The league would like to be able to have the games switch back and forth between the two networks, as opposed to having CBS air one set of games and NBC air another. This would also benefit the NFL in that it would give them more flexibility in putting the high profile competitions on its own channel.
Obviously, accepting all of this deal would be a bad idea for CBS and NBC. Not knowing upfront when they would have games to air would disrupt their whole Thursday night schedule. They wouldn’t be able to reliably program any shows in the time slots usually taken up by football, and this would mean risking the ire of football fans and fans of their regular programming alike. It would likely lead to lower ratings, even for popular shows, since people can’t be as sure of when their Thursday favorites are actually on air.
The NFL is really playing hardball with this one. But, if the networks accept this crazy deal, it’ll sure be interesting to see what the long-term ramifications will look like.