The Wall Street Journal reports that the league isn’t thrilled with the ratings the NFL Network gets for its Thursday games.
For example, last week’s TNF tilt between the New York Giants and Chicago Bears — teams from two of the nation’s largest markets — only attracted about 7.8 million viewers according to Nielsen. That was enough to be the top cable show for the night, but pales in comparison, the Monday night game San Diego/Indianapolis game that had 12 million viewers. And these two cable broadcasts combined couldn’t equal the 22 million people who tuned in to NBC to watch the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins try to play football on Sunday night.
Thus, the NFL is hoping that giving fans another Thursday night football option would help boost the overall ratings for the sport. The Journal’s sources say that the topic has been discussed with potential partners but no particular programming package has been pitched thus far.
Part of the problem with Thursday Night Football is that it is not only a cable channel, but it’s a cable channel that not everyone has access to, as opposed to ESPN, which is generally a given on all but the most stripped-down cable packages.
TNF games are usually made available over-the-air in the competing teams’ markets, and the games usually do well in those cities, but when you have two smaller-market teams in a game, the ratings are not terribly impressive because it is not yet considered “event television” like the Sunday and Monday national games are. A September match-up between Buffalo and Cleveland drew fewer than 7 million viewers, half as many as watched ESPN’s Monday Night game that week.
One huge hurdle in finding a partner for a Thursday night game is that the broadcaster might be risking the loss of some ad revenue if the ratings don’t pan out. Explains the Journal:
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.
There’s also the fact that Fox or CBS would each lose a game every week, so you could expect these networks to fight tooth and nail to keep the high-profile pairings between big-market teams.
There is also the possibility that the NFL could, rather than add another game to Thursday, simply sell off the TNF rights — or maybe just the rights to some games during the season — to another broadcaster with a larger viewership. The league is being creative in its thinking, even considering Internet-based content providers like Netflix or Google.
This is where we beg the NFL Network to please stop using that horrid “In My City” song for its intro theme. We’d rather listen to all of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music at full blast than hear that pop ditty again.
UPDATE: The NFL is officially denying the Wall Street Journal report, with a league PR rep Tweeting, “Wondering where the idea of Thursday night doubleheaders came from? So are we. We have not considered this.”