Sources: ABC Planning To Bid For Thursday Night NFL Package
Bids for the NFL's "Thursday Night Football" package are due Friday, and sources said ABC is planning to bid on the games, potentially marking the return of NFL action to the Disney-owned network for the first time since Super Bowl XL in February '06. 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. 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 Disney/ABC 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 (John Ourand, Staff Writer).
DIGITAL WATCH: CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin notes the Thursday package "could be the first time a digital player like a Google, YouTube or a Netflix" offers a bid. He asked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell if they have "enough of a market in terms of addressable audience that they are a real competitor." Sorkin: "Not just in terms of dollars that they can bring the NFL, but in terms of what they can do for the presence of the league." Goodell said the league is in "active discussions" with bidders and noted, "Some of those digital opportunities we think really do have the capability of doing this now." However, he said, "What we believe is our most successful business model is being on free television to the broadest possible audience, and that's where we've made our mark. We're the only league to have all of our games on broadcast television in the local markets, and we think that's really valuable to us. We want to be available to the widest spectrum of audience and most importantly, the casual fans so they know where to get us at all times" ("Squawk Box," CNBC, 1/17).
JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG? CSNBAYAREA.com's Andy Dolich said with the NFL shopping its Thursday night TV package, there ultimately could be a "five- or six-day week for NFL broadcasts, and we're pushing it to different platforms." Dolich: "The NFL needs to feed this beast, and that is the revenue that they generate each year. They couldn't be in a better position." Dolich noted the NFL wanting to sign only a one-year deal for this package "gives them the opportunity to see what happens after they get out of the starting gate" ("Yahoo SportsTalk Live," CSN Bay Area, 1/16). Goodell said, "One of the things we work very hard at is trying to give the fans more because every time we do give them more football, they say, 'Well, give me more.' But we don't want to reach that point of saturation where people say, 'It's not special anymore.' One of the things that makes the NFL so special is that every one of our events is special and unique" ("Squawk Box," CNBC, 1/17).