Sources: NFL Could Split Up Thursday Night Package Among Multiple Broadcast Networks
The NFL is looking into the possibility of splitting up its Thursday night package and selling it to two, or even three, broadcast networks, according to several sources. The league asked the broadcast networks to submit bids on eight-to-10-game packages. But it also requested that CBS, Fox and NBC submit bids covering three-to-five games, as well, sources said. It is conceivable that the league could expand the Thursday night package to 17 games, giving each broadcast network three Thursday night games that would be simulcast on NFL Network. That would leave eight games that would appear exclusively on NFL Network -- a figure that hits the minimum number of games needed for NFL Network to keep its affiliate rate at north of $1 per subscriber per month. By contract, NFL Network has to carry at least eight regular-season games exclusively or else the affiliate rate cable/satellite/telco distributors pay for the channel drops significantly. Sources said a decision could come as early as this week and that all the broadcast networks begrudgingly have submitted bids on the three-to-five game partial packages. Cable networks ESPN and Turner Sports, are not being as aggressive in this process because of the short-term nature of the deal, sources said. The NFL is seeking a one-year deal with a one-year option, sources said. League execs believe the advantage of splitting up the package comes down to promotion. The more broadcasters that have a stake in “Thursday Night Football,” the more that will wind up promoting it in their most popular shows. The NFL originally picked CBS to carry “TNF" in part because of its promise to promote the series in its top-rated primetime line-up.
THE BIGGER, THE BETTER: Broadcasters are wary about picking up such small packages. It is more difficult to sell ad schedules around three-to-five game packages, as opposed to full-season ones. And the broadcaster that ends up with the December package will have ad sales advantages over the one that ends up with the October package, as December is rife with pre-Christmas advertisers, and October ad sales have more competition with the baseball playoffs. The league also is selling the series’ digital rights as a separate package and has sent requests to companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Yahoo to bid on it.