SBD/January 13, 2014/Media

NFL Formally Asks TV Outlets To Bid On One-Year Package Of Thursday Games

The NFL seeks to build "Thursday Night Football" to rival "SNF" and "MNF"
After years of rumored talks, the NFL formally asked several TV outlets to bid on a package of Thursday night football games that a winning bidder would share with NFL Network. The league last week sent formal Requests for Proposal notices to its current broadcast partners plus other interested players, like Turner Sports, for a package of games that would start in just eight months. The bids are due by the end of the week. The NFL is auctioning a one-year deal with a bigger TV channel to help build “Thursday Night Football” into the same high-powered brand as "SNF," which is the top-rated show in primetime, and "MNF," which is the top-rated show on cable. It is likely that the NFL will use the one-year deal as a springboard for a longer Thursday night deal. It is not clear how many games the winning network would get or when those games would air, but the NFL is looking for the bids to be up to eight games covering in the first half of the season. The package would only include regular-season games; no playoffs. NFL Network the past two years has produced 13 games, and the NFL today released a statement attributed to NFL Media COO Brian Rolapp that reads, "NFL Network has done a tremendous job turning Thursday into a night for NFL football and will continue to do so. We want to make it even bigger and accelerate its promotion and growth with an additional partner." Considering that "SNF" consistently gets the most viewers on a competitive TV night, it is conceivable that one of the broadcast networks would step up and buy the package. It also is expected to draw interest from one of the sports channels that have launched over the past few years: FS1 or NBCSN. Turner Sports could use an early-season Thursday night package on TNT before its Thursday night NBA games start. And while ESPN has shown tepid interest so far in another NFL package, the Disney-owned company certainly will kick the tires (John Ourand, Staff Writer).

STAYING AWAY FROM GOOGLE: CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin said the Thursday night package is "where I think the digital thing comes into play." Sorkin: "They may try to sell this package to a Google or a Netflix or somebody who wants to play in that new world" ("Squawk Box," CNBC, 1/13). However, REUTERS' Grover & Baker cited a source as saying that Google, which had "expressed interest in streaming NFL games in the past, was not asked to bid" (REUTERS, 1/12).

DOES LEAGUE PREFER NETWORK PARTNER? In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes the league’s "preference would probably be a broadcast network like NBC, CBS or Fox, but it would also be pleased if a cable channel got the package." Each of the networks "to receive the proposal from the league reaches more television homes than NFL Network’s estimated 72 million" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/13). CBSSPORTS.com's Jason La Canfora reported that the league "is looking for roughly" $800M, and NFL Network "would like to be able to keep late regular-season games leading up to the playoffs." However, chances are that the net that "lands the deal will want those games." La Canfora: "This has always been the plan -- to use the full-season package to get higher carriage fees and get on Time Warner Cable, then sell off half the package" (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/12). The AP notes as the NFL "keeps drawing monster TV ratings, any additional games are hugely appealing to networks." While the viewership for Thursday night games "has been significantly lower than for other packages, live sports are increasingly valuable in an age of DVRs and splintered audiences -- and none more so than the NFL" (AP, 1/12).
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