The Sports Business Journal is the go to place to leak big news if you're a pro league, media company, agency, or professional team. They consistently break the biggest stories and Monday they unleashed quite a bombshell by reporting that the NFL is engaging with various television partners to broadcast 8 additional Thursday Night Games. Per SBJ:
"The NFL is negotiating with TV networks about a new early-season eight-game package that would start as soon as next season, according to several sources.
The potential Thursday night package could be worth as much as $700 million per year, the sources said. Such a windfall, providing a sudden increase in overall league revenue, could help soften the blow to the players from the emerging labor deal in which they are likely to receive a smaller percentage of revenue than they previously have received.
The new package would not affect NFL Network’s schedule of live games, as the league has decided to keep its channel’s eight-game Thursday night slate in the second half of the season intact."
The article goes on to say that this could be for next season (2012) and that their current contracts with Fox and CBS allow them to pull these games from their lineups. Most importantly, SBJ pegs Versus and Turner as the leading candidates to acquire this package of games with ESPN, Spike, and FX also at least exploring the possibility of bidding on the package.
In a nutshell this is huge news. Not only would fans be treated to an additional nationally televised game for the first half of the season, but this package may serve as a kingmaker if Versus or maybe even TNT get the package in terms of building a viable competitor to ESPN.
Before we dive into that let's eliminate the pretenders in this discussion. SBJ's article states that cable providers have surcharge protection from FX. This basically means that if FX somehow got the NFL package, they wouldn't be able to raise their carriage fees to cable/satellite providers until those agreements lapsed. Historically speaking, cable channels have negotiated contingent elevated fees if they were able to procure various sports packages. By getting these agreed upon increases, cable networks have been able to more aggressively pursue packages rather than rolling the dice and most likely losing money in the short term. With FX not having any provisions that increases revenue from cable and satellite providers, $700 million is going to be too pricey for them.
Spike airs the show Manswers and therefore they are eliminated.
ESPN seems like a logical option but they've really built a strong following with their Thursday night college football coverage. It's doubtful they'd swap out profitable programming on ABC on Thursday night or bump their college offering so ESPN2 would either have to be the destination for the package or maybe for the college package to move to. Either way it seems like a lot of money even for ESPN when they already have programming during that window. While it's going to be painful for them to be on the sidelines of this discussion, I think they'll ultimately sit this one out. If it was the rights for Thursday night games in the second half of the season, I think they'd be much more open to it as the college football season winds down weeks in advance of the end of the NFL season.
That leaves us with Versus and Turner and the potential opening of the door for both networks to make a big play towards ESPN...