The optimism around the merciful conclusion to the NFL’s labor unrest has been hovering somewhere between high and really high since the owners meetings last Tuesday when details of the new CBA emerged. An expansion of the Thursday night football schedule was among those details, and now it seems that the league is looking to reel in a few more Benjamins before the CBA is even finalized.
There are currently eight Thursday night games on the league’s schedule shown on the NFL Network starting in November. Eight more would be plugged in as part of the new CBA, giving the league a Thursday night game for every week of the regular season. The NFL isn’t waiting around to capitalize on the allure of more prime time games, as according to John Ourand and David Kaplan of the Sports Business Journal, the league is already taking bids from networks on the additional slate of games.
Generating a cool $700 million in revenue, the new package has reportedly drawn serious interest from Turner and Comcast. Turner would be re-entering NFL broadcasting after carrying games on TNT from 1990-1997, which is one possible location for NFL games owned by the broadcasting company along with TBS and TruTV. Meanwhile, games owned by Comcast would land on Versus.
Fox will poke around the NFL broadcasting parking lot and reportedly kick a few tires with aspirations of airing games on FX, but their interest isn’t considered serious. Same goes for ESPN and Spike TV.
Although the NFL wouldn’t offer Ourand and Kaplan any comment, their sources indicated that the league already has the rights to remove enough games from the Sunday afternoon schedules held by Fox and CBS to fill the new Thursday expansion.
Are you puzzled by the league seemingly jumping the loaded labor gun by already opening the bidding war for Thursday night games? Don’t be. You see, as Ourand and Kaplan note, it seems that money is a pretty efficient motivator and is often at the center of any labor dispute. Crazy, I know.
The cash from the additional prime time games will offset revenue lost in other areas.
The new revenue could offer solace to the league after it was rebuffed on its efforts to expand the schedule to 18 games from 16 games. The players have fought fiercely against that proposal, so in a way, the league is selling a new half-season this way.
By expanding the prime time broadcasting schedule the league has quickly and easily found a new revenue stream, one that doesn’t increase the health risks of players due to the burden of extra games. The games being played in the expanded Thursday night format already existed, but will now be played on a grander stage, and therefore sold to the television networks at a premium price.
For a rough idea of the value of prime time NFL real estate, the Monday Night Football contract extension between the NFL and ESPN is rumored to be in the neighborhood of $1.8 billion per year, a number that would presumably be split in half for an eight-game schedule.