Commentary

NFL: Too Much Of A Good Thing? Not Yet -- Bring On Thursday Night

From the Having-Your-Cake-And-Eating-It-Too Department: The NFL is now requiring the network that wins its “Thursday Night Football” package to simulcast those games on the league’s own NFL Network.

A deal under this configuration would give the NFL what equates to an advertising-revenue share arrangement, one that few TV programmers receive.

It’s hard to find anyone holding a strong hand in TV these days.  The NFL is a rare, growing TV franchise in viewership on virtually all its network partners -- Fox, NBC, CBS, ESPN and DirecTV.

The question is: “Where is the saturation point?”  Right now, the NFL doesn’t seem to be near it.

NFL Network’s current “Thursday Night Football” – which just completed its second season -- witnessed ratings up around 30% from the previous year. NFL Network has some 72 million U.S. subscribers.

TV analysts credit the Thursday night games with hurting general entertainment prime-time programming on the major networks -- though less than occurs with, say, NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”

This might bring out new bidders who want to protect their other TV programming assets. Some speculate that ABC -- the lone network of the big four broadcasters without an NFL deal -- will try to make a play.

Advertisers? They could shift dollars around more – both to the “Thursday Night Football” network and perhaps more to NFL Network, depending how the deal works itself out.  Marketers love finding new high-rated competitors, all in the hope of keeping advertising prices down.

NFL Network currently pulls in about $200.7 million in advertising revenue and $773.5 million in affiliate revenue per year, according to SNL Kagan.  

The NFL still mostly skews to men -- young and old -- and it’s advertisers targeting that viewer group who have the most to gain. Some would say  advertisers who buy TV sports typically don’t buy a lot of scripted and non-scripted entertainment shows. Others believe there can be more spillover.

That said, even sharing the NFL Thursday night package doesn’t seem to be scaring off certain networks.  CBS and Fox Sports have already submitted bids,  according to Reuters, and analysts reckon that virtually every one will enter the bidding -- existing NFL networks as well as ABC and Turner Sports.

Ultimately, by demanding that a winning network simulcast games with NFL Network, the NFL not only retains a continuing stake in escalating license fees but also gains a piece of the rising advertiser dollars.

Some analysts believe the simulcast will actually keep a lid on a high NFL license fees. But in this hard-pressed TV market -- when it’s so hard to find ratings growth -- would that really occur?

If bidding among existing and new networks gets hot and heavy, the NFL might benefit in multiple ways.

2 comments about "NFL: Too Much Of A Good Thing? Not Yet -- Bring On Thursday Night".
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  1. Robynne Wildman from Standing With Agnes Nixon, January 21, 2014 at 9:03 a.m.

    I don't care who gets it...as long as I can watch again. I don't have cable.

  2. Mark Walker from aka Media Mark, January 21, 2014 at 11:59 a.m.

    Better question: where does the GREED stop? Oh, yeah- these are NFL owners- I forgot!

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