Published January 16, 2014
ABC is planning to bid on the "Thursday Night Football" package, sources said, potentially marking the return of NFL games to the Disney-owned network for the first time since Super Bowl XL in February '06. Bids on the league's Thursday night package are due tomorrow, and all of the network partners are expected to submit bids: ESPN, which would put the game on ABC; CBS; Fox; and NBC. Turner Sports also is expected to bid on the package for one of its networks, but it is considered a long shot since the NFL is looking to expand the Thursday night games onto a broadcast network.
Smaller broadcast networks like The CW (co-owned by CBS and Time Warner) and MyNetwork (owned by Fox) are not expected to bid, sources said. There had been speculation that CBS and Turner could use The CW in a joint bid or Fox could use MyNetwork in its bid. The available package will only be one year, and games likely will be simulcast on NFL Network.
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It is the inclusion of ABC in the bidding process that is, perhaps, the most surprising development. Since its last "MNF" regular-season telecast in '05, Disney aggressively has been migrating sports content from ABC to ESPN. ABC carries some NBA games, NASCAR races and has had success with its Saturday night college football package. Sources said ABC execs, including DisneyABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney and ESPN President John Skipper, are interested in picking up an NFL package as a way to create parity with the other broadcast networks, all of whom carry highly rated NFL games. NBC's "SNF" is the top-rated primetime series on television.
The quality of the Thursday night matchups generally is the weakest among all of the NFL's TV partners. That is not expected to change. In its proposal that it sent to the networks last week, the NFL said it still plans to use the package to ensure that all teams have at least one Thursday matchup during the season.