Thursday Night Football Could Go Digital, NFL Tells Networks

The NFL has asked media companies to bid on additional seasons of Thursday Night Football and the league is indicating that if TV networks aren’t interested the package could go to a streaming company like Amazon.

Sources confirm that the league sent out requests for proposals on Wednesday, with responses due in January.

Despite two seasons of shrinking ratings, the NFL remains TV’s most potent programming. But there have been rumblings that the Thursday night package is a problem because poorly rested players don’t play well on Thursdays and get injured. Plus some say the Thursday games oversaturate the market for NFL football, contributing to the softer ratings and flat ad sales.

NBC and CBS split the broadcast portion of the NFL package, with games also airing on the league-owned NFL network. They pay the league a combined $450 million. This season, the games were also streamed by Amazon.

In the RFP the league says it is open to making changes in the package, according to Sports Business Daily. The changes include moving more games from Thursday night. Some games in the packages already are aired on Saturdays, early Sunday morning and Christmas day.

The league also is encouraging potential television partners to experiment and come up with new ideas for using technology to enhance the telecast and innovative ideas to reduce the intrusion of commercials.

But the RFP also says the league would consider having a digital company such as Amazon taking the entire package. It would be the first time a streaming company took over what had been a broadcast package for a major sport.

If a streamer got the game, it would likely still sell games to local broadcast stations to make sure home team fans got free over-the-air access to games.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.