July 20, 2011

THE SKED: Are You Ready For Some (Thursday) Football?

More articles by »
Written by: Mitch Salem
Tags: , , , , , , ,


At this point, it would be fairly shocking if the NFL and its players didn’t settle their labor dispute in time to have a full pro football season.  (That sound is NBC falling to its knees in relief.)  One issue that seems likely to remain unresolved in the new labor agreement is the NFL’s initial demand for 1-2 additional regular season games, which the players resisted.  Since–at least for now–the season will remain 16 games long, reports are that the league, which already airs Thursday night games in November and December on its self-owned NFL Network, may attempt to gain $600-700M of new revenue in another way:  by pulling 8 more games from Sundays and, perhaps as soon as next season, sell a first-half package of Thursday games to another network.  (There’s even the possibility that the new network will be offered a full season package, although that would damage the league’s attempt to build up the NFL Network as a valuable commodity.)

While ESPN would probably participate in the bidding, they already have Monday night games and carry college football on Thursdays.  The speculation is that more serious bidders might include Versus (now part of the NBC-Comcast empire), TNT, FX, and Spike.  All of those networks have far wider national coverage than the NFL Network, which during last season’s games was available in about 50% of the country.  Even with those limitations, last year’s games were doing 18-49 ratings in the low 2s according to TV By the Numbers; that number would likely rise steeply if a larger network carried games.
Thursday, of course, is one of the most important nights of the week for broadcast networks, partly because movie studios heavily advertise their weekend releases that night.  Every network showcases its heavy hitters on Thursdays:  Big Bang Theory on CBS, Grey’s Anatomy on ABC, The Office on NBC, the upcoming X-Factor on FOX.  If the new football games do a 4.0 18-49 rating or higher, which certainly seems possible (ESPN sometimes does a 6-7 rating with Monday games), that would equal the night’s biggest hits–and probably end up higher than any of them, once football’s toll on the existing shows is taken into account.
Football has a downside from a broadcast network point of view:  although the ratings are great, the cost (these games could run $75-100M each) is equally enormous.  But this is where cable networks have a huge advantage over broadcast:  along with earning advertising revenue, a cable network, like ESPN, can pass costs along to subscribers in the form of higher monthly fees.  A good deal for everyone–except the broadcast network competition.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."