Though fans and writers routinely criticize the quality of play seen during Thursday Night Football games, there’s no denying the demand for the broadcasts is there. The Jets-Patriots game in Week 2, the first NFL Network broadcast of the season, drew an average of 8.8 million viewers, making it the highest-rated opening game on the network in its eight years of showing TNF. Last week’s Giants-Bears game attracted an average of 7.8 million, still good enough to be the highest rated cable broadcast of the evening, topping a competing playoff baseball game by nearly two million viewers.
It stands to reason that if fans are going to watch it, the league is going to continue doing it, no matter of the validity of objections. And so not only will Thursday Night Football continue, but the NFL potentially wants more of it.
“The process is still in the preliminary phase, (a) person familiar with the league’s strategy said. Executives have discussed the issue with media outlets but the league isn’t shopping a specific package and no formal offers have been received, the person said.
“Adding another several hours of football on Thursday nights would have significant implications in the TV industry. Thursdays have historically been a big night for advertisers like auto makers and movie studios looking to promote weekend openings. As a result broadcast networks put some of their best shows on that night.”
“Potential buyers of the games would likely be national cable sports networks. But league officials have also considered selling the Thursday night package to a nontraditional media partner, including online players like Netflix Inc. or Google Inc., the person said.
I don’t doubt that the NFL could make it work from a financial standpoint, as maximizing profits is what the league does best. That said, even more than the concern of diluting their product by presenting more of it at a time when its quality is diminished, the league’s potential expansion of Thursday Night Football flies in the face of the NFL’s ever-increasing (purportedly) emphasis on safety. Take these recent comments by 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin:
“But there are some things that just don’t make sense to me. I mean if you’re so concerned about player safety then why do you have every team in the league playing on Thursday night when they just competed on a Sunday, knowing how difficult it is for guys to get back to being healthy after playing on Sunday? Guys really don’t feel like they’re back till probably Thursday or Friday to prepare for that next week.”
Boldin paused and then added:
“The league can say they’re doing things to protect guys, but I’m not one of the guys buying it.”
The thing is, I’m not sure anyone is buying it.
UPDATE: For what it’s worth, league officials are denying the report that they are considering expanding the Thursday slate.