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NFL expands Thursday Night Football
NFL
NFL expands Thursday Night Football
Monday February 1st, 2016

The NFL, forever the Henry Kissinger of sports negotiating bodies, has once again figured out a way to increase its bottom line using existing inventory.

The league announced Monday that it had reached agreement with CBS and NBC to share its Thursday night primetime package of games. Both CBS and NBC will broadcast five Thursday Night Football games in 2016 and 2017, while all Thursday Night Football broadcast games will continue to be simulcast on NFL Network. The league-owned network will also exclusively televise an eight-game schedule comprising Thursday Night Football, late-season games on Saturday and additional games to be determined. CBS has been assigned the early part of the season; the exact date of their first broadcast is still to be determined. NBC will start its package on Nov. 17, which means the network will have six consecutive Thursday night games when you add in Thanksgiving night.

Multiple sources said CBS and NBC each paid $225 million for the deal, or $45 million per game. That’s up from CBS’s current deal for eight games that was reportedly worth $300 million. (Rarely are people this happy to part with $450 million.) Keep in mind the NFL will bring still​ more money in for the streaming or OTT rights for the Thursday night package from a digital company such as Amazon, Facebook, YouTube or Yahoo!, which streamed the Bills-Jaguars game last October. The NFL said in its release that it was in active discussions with prospective digital partners for OTT streaming rights to Thursday Night Football. “A deal announcement is expected in the near future,” the league said.

Those who think there is a war on football must not own a television.

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Both CBS and NBC will produce Thursday Night Football with their lead broadcasters and production teams, and both will contribute to the production of Thursday Night Football on NFL Network. (NBC joins ABC as the first network to present multiple primetime NFL packages in the same season.) One interesting note: Cris Collinsworth, the lead NFL analyst for NBC, called the first-ever Thursday Night Football game on NFL Network in 2006.

There is one talent change of note. Longtime Sunday Night Football sideline reporter Michele Tafoya has young children and asked her employer if she could bypass the Thursday night package. Tafoya will continue on Sunday Night Football, and NBC will either use a reporter in-house or hire someone for the five games. (Good on NBC for working with the well-respected Tafoya for this work-life balance.)

In an interview on Monday with SI.com, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said it was apparent from the beginning of his network’s negotiations with the NFL for an extension of the TNF package that the league was interested in bringing on another network partner. Once it was clear that the NFL was aiming for a split package, McManus said CBS focused on three priorities. “First was to retain the rights for Thursday Night Football,” McManus said. “Number two was to figure out a way that we would have games in the early part of the season as a promotional vehicle to launch our primetime schedule. Number three was to complete a deal that was a beneficial to us from a financial standpoint. I am pleased that we worked with the NFL closely to accomplish those goals.”

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NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus told SI.com that his company looked at the deal through a lens of “being the first network to have two primetime packages.” Sunday Night Football has been a juggernaut for NBC—especially in the coveted 18–49 demographic—and Lazarus believed Thursday Night Football would add value for NBC, particularly in the fourth quarter and a key ad sales period (December holidays).

Lazarus said his company told the NFL that his network was interested in both a full package and a partial package.

“It became more obvious over the past couple of weeks with their line of questioning and their focus that sharing a package was going to be their decision,” Lazarus said. “To be sure, we were interested in having the whole package. But we are thrilled to be part of this and committed to making it successful with them and for them.”

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McManus said he thought the advertising market would support all three partners. “I honestly think for all three partners and eventually the streaming partner, this will be a very good deal for all of us,” he said. “To have two major media companies promoting Thursday Night Football is a real benefit for the NFL.”

Asked if NBC was interested in having Thursday Night Football beyond 2017, Lazarus did not hesitate. “We are not in the short term business and we would like to be in business with the NFL for a long time on multiple nights,” he said.

The deals with each network were negotiated separately and finalized over the weekend. As of Monday afternoon, McManus had not spoken with Lazarus. “He’s a good friend and it will be a congratulatory call,” McManus said. “I’ll probably send him some red wine.”

Told McManus was buying him booze, Lazarus said he would reciprocate with a nice bottle in kind. 

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