The NFL Network will get mega-exposure from an odd place this year: CBS.
One of the biggest offseason stories in sports television was CBS acquiring a new primetime Thursday Night Football package, once the sole ownership of NFLN. Now, every Thursday night from Sept. 11 to Oct. 23 (as well as Dec. 20), NFL games will air on CBS and also be simulcast on NFL Network as part of Thursday Night Football. Games in Weeks 9-12 and Weeks 14-16 will be televised on NFL Network and will be simulcast on over-the-air stations in the primary markets of the participating teams. All TNF games (they are all divisional matchups) will kick off at 8:25 p.m. ET, with the exception of the Week 16 Saturday doubleheader, when the NFL Network will air its game at 4:30 p.m. ET with CBS at 8:00 p.m. Here’s a snapshot of what NFL fans can expect from NFL Network’s coverage this year.
Biggest change: Obviously, the Thursday Night partnership with CBS is the season’s focus. The TNF pregame show will go across two networks from 6:00 p.m. to 8:15 p.m, starting with NFL Total Access Kickoff at 6:00 p.m. ET. (CBS picks up the show at 7:30 p.m.) The host of the NFLN portion will be Rich Eisen, with analysts Michael Irvin, Marshall Faulk and Steve Mariucci live from a venue outside the stadium. The NFL Network will also air a postgame show immediately following each TNF game where a player or coach from the winning team will join the crew on-set. I have details on the pregame show in this piece.
Outside of Thursday night, NFLN has debuted NFL GameDay Live, which airs Sundays from 1:00-7:30 p.m. ET and offers highlights and analysis of the Sunday games, as well as live fantasy updates and reports, press conferences, interviews and live reports from game sites. The hosts are Kevin Frazier and Dan Hellie. The analysts are Brian Billick, Heath Evans, LaDainian Tomlinson and Daniel Jeremiah. Rhett Lewis and Erin Coscarelli are the new hosts for the daily NFL AM, which has added LaVar Arrington as a full-time analyst. NFL GameDay Morning has added a slew of quality reporters: Steve Cyphers, Andrea Kremer, Mike Silver, and Mark Kriegel. Former Seattle Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson joins NFL GameDay First, which airs Sunday at 7:00 a.m. ET.
Talent losses: Host Paul Burmeister left for NBC Sports. Reporter Michelle Beisner left for ESPN. Analyst Darren Sharper was fired following multiple charges of rape and aggravated rape and an arrest for drug possession.
Keep an eye on: How CBS and NFL Network collaborate on Thursday night. Executives and production crews from both networks have been saying the right things publicly -- that it will be a collaboration between the two entities. NFLN has a four-part series called Finding Giants premiering September 25 following Thursday Night Football. It’s a yearlong look at scouting and team building in today’s NFL featuring the Giants’ scouts.
Ratings of note: Last year’s 13-game schedule produced the most-watched season for Thursday Night Football, with an average of 8.0 million viewers. That was up 10 percent from the 2012 season average. NFL GameDay Morning averaged 478,000 viewers for the 2013 season.
On the Redskins’ nickname: "We don’t instruct our analysts and hosts on exactly how to refer to each club," said a network spokesperson. "As a network that covers the NFL 24 hours a day, we will continue our practice of using the official name and logo of each of the 32 clubs in our programming."
Digital extensions: The network’s news-breakers, from Ian Rapoport to Albert Breer and draft experts such as Jeremiah are must-follows for a daily NFL diet. NFL Now is a video service that offers fans access to the largest digital library of NFL video anywhere, accessible through apps and browsers across an array of Internet-connected devices. The service includes access to game highlights and original content from NFL Media and the 32 NFL clubs, and live press conferences and video from the NFL Films vault. Full details can be found here.