Bidding Wars for NFL’s 2014 “Thursday Night Football”: Who Will Win, and Who Would Benefit Most?

After mixed results for NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football, the NFL is finally letting go of it’s exclusivity of Thursday night games. Although TNF has brought growth to the league’s cable network, which is now carried on nearly all major cable and satellite providers in the country, NFL is not seeing the ratings it would like for Thursday nights. Averaging 8 million viewers a game (versus the average 20 million seen by NBC’s Sunday Night Football), the belief is viewership is limited by two major factors. One being that the games just aren’t that good due to shorter prep times for the teams who have only a few days between Sunday’s game and Thursday’s, as well as NFL’s arguably silly ‘everyone should get a Thursday night game’ practices. The other limiting factor seems to be that the NFL Network is just inherently limited due to the fact that it’s a cable network, you can’t just tune into the game on your ‘rabbit ears’ and enjoy. So, NFL’s solution: offer a one year deal for Thursday Night Football to a broadcast network as a test.
The deal, which is reportedly being bid on by NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX, is not very clear, as it would include somewhere between 6 and 13 games in the 2014 NFL season, and the NFL is retaining simulcasting rights so the games would also air on NFL Network. Additionally, the deal is only for 2014, in case this ‘test’ doesn’t go as well as the NFL would like, and would allow them to go back to NFL Network exclusivity in 2015. But the question is, which network is willing to gamble their current fall schedule ratings and millions of dollars for something that might just be a complete failure.
NBC, CBS, and FOX all have fledgling cable sports networks they would like to get off the ground, and TNF would be a great way to do that, but the simulcasting on NFL Network puts a wrench in that equation. It’s doubtful the NFL would like to see the games being simulcast on two cable only networks, as it would eat into NFL Network’s revenue and still limit ratings as opposed to broadcast. So the NFL will most likely ask a price high enough that it’ll force whichever network wins to choose broadcast over their cable network.
Network breakdown (including my projected chance of each network winning the bid):
CBS: America’s most watched network is home to the highest rated show on television, The Big Bang Theory, which currently airs on Thursday nights. Big Bang is the anchor of CBS’s Thursday lineup, which makes it difficult to conceive CBS would uproot that success and risk loosing shows to something being simulcast on another network. Not to mention, CBS has the benefit of half of the Sunday NFL games already. They’d prefer to push TNF to CBS Sports Network, and the NFL would prefer that not happen. Chance of bid win: 5%.
ABC: Number 3 of the big 4 networks, ABC has been struggling ever since it lost Monday Night Football back in 2005, and could benefit from an NFL return. However, two of ABC’s highest rated shows, Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, both air on Thursday nights. On the other hand, moving those shows to Sunday and either Tuesday or Wednesday respectively would massively help those night’s ratings, and the addition of TNF would eliminate the problem of ABC’s ‘Thursday @ 8 death slot’. Chance of winning bid: 15%.
NBC: As the lowest rated of the major networks, NBC could always use another guaranteed ratings boost, and has virtually nothing to lose. The fact that TNF would only last for the fall means NBC would have to come up with 7 new hours of programming in the spring, which would hurt, a lot. However, NBC already has Sunday Night Football and America’s new favorite singing competition, The Voice, which means with the addition of TNF, NBC would be likely to have 10 of the highest rated hours of broadcast TV in the fall, which just might bump them ahead of ABC. Likelihood of winning bid: 40%.
FOX: Ever since The X Factor premiered, it’s done nothing but pull down FOX’s ratings, and as of this past fall, it was some of the lowest 3 hours of programming FOX has had in recent memory. Scrapping The X Factor, replacing the results with TNF, moving the other half of FOX’s current Thursdays, the always ratings-reliable Glee, to Wednesdays and pairing it with a new show seems like a perfect solution. Plus, FOX wouldn’t have the other network’s worries of spring Thursday replacement thanks to American Idol. The only downsides: inevitable conflicts with MLB playoff games, and TNF bleeding into close to 2 hours of affiliate programming, as FOX ends network programming at 10pm. Bid win chances: 40%.
It’s a dead heat between NBC and FOX, but if I had to give an edge, it’d be to FOX, simply due to the likelihood that the NFL would like to spread ‘primetime game wealth’ around, rather than have one network dominate both Sunday Night Football and Thursday Night Football. Only time will tell.

This entry was posted in Entertainment, Sports. Bookmark the permalink.