'Thursday Night Football' Isn't Always A Winning Proposition

Declining ratings aside, the NFL may have hit some saturation levels when it comes to brand extension.

Reports suggest virtually the same number of networks will compete for next year’s “Thursday Night Football” package -- and that the entire rights fee package for the regular season series may stay about the same or even drop versus a year ago.

CBS and NBC paid a combined $450 million last season to air “TNF” -- each getting five games at piece. Both have reportedly lost money on the package; both have seen lower ratings.  

CBS was down 4% to 14.1 million viewers for “TNF,” while NBC lost 21%, averaging 13.5 million viewers. The broadcast network part of the “TNF” series started in 2014. NFL Network simulcasts the broadcast games, as well as airing some games exclusively.

For next year's negotiations, ABC, Turner and Facebook have dropped out of the hunt, according to one report. Possibly joining CBS and NBC in the pursuit of “TNF” is Fox -- which in theory could keep rights fees at or above what the NFL got a year ago.



Fox’s entry makes sense -- considering its recent decision to sell about half of the company’s entertainment assets. It may focus much of its efforts on sports and news programming, as well as its broadcast networks and TV stations.

Overall regular season NFL football ratings witnessed near 9% declines in regular season TV viewership in 2017, versus the year before.

Even with these declines, NFL programming remains the highest-rated programming content for traditional TV. TV networks also gain big promotional spin from the NFL for their other entertainment programs.

Is the competition/quality of the games weak on “THF”? There is some negative press from the players, who have complained “TNF” games have meant more injuries, given the short turnaround time from games played the Sunday before.

Digital media companies could take up the slack from the traditional TV platforms.

Amazon (and Twitter before it), which held live streaming rights for "TNF" last year, may not be affected by declining broadcast TV rights fees. Amazon’s aim is to give its platform more premium video content — and keep users around for other business revenue.

Still, considering some turmoil on and off the field, including medical issues, the NFL may need to put off further expansion plans -- including one long-pursued effort to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18.

That said, the NFL is still mighty powerful for TV networks. If the NFL punts on some things in the near term, it doesn’t mean it is playing to lose.

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