NFL set for big payday with Thursday Night Football

Every year in the NFL it is the same controversy, different team regarding Thursday Night Football. Coaches such as the Saints’ Sean Payton called the early game “foolish” citing the little time coaches have to prepare for their next opponent and for the players to recover. This rang particularly true for the Saints when Payton made these comments last year as they played on Sunday night only to have three days the following week to prepare.

Players are no fans of the now-weekly tradition either. Richard Sherman made his feelings for the required short week very well known this past October:

“I mean, it’s rough,” Sherman said. “It’s rough on the body. Any time you play a football game and play another one a few days later, it’s going to be tough on the body. But it’s just another one of those things. Another one of those simple contradictions of the league, because they care about us.”

Not only the players and coaches hate it but the fans are clearly not fans either. Compared to the other prime time NFL games, Monday and Sunday nights, Thursdays have the lowest ratings by far.

So why are the ratings so low? Well the primary reason would be the less-than-stellar matchups. Despite the NFL saying they save the “marquee” matchups for primetime games, only one Thursday night game this year has featured two opponents above .500. On top of that, six of the ten teams projected to pick in the top ten of the draft next year have played on Thursday this year.

So fans hate it, players hate it and coaches hate it. Why is it still a thing? Well why does any unpopular entity stay around: money.

The NFL renewed TNF contract with CBS this offseason that awarded the league. The renewal was a one year extension of a $275 million agreement that was reached in 2014. While this may seem like a lot, according to an article from Sports Business Daily, this wasn’t even the highest bid the NFL received:

…sources said CBS’s bid was lower than some of the other offers. But for a one-year deal, a small difference in price was not enough to mitigate everything else that CBS was offering.
The NFL executives kept coming back to a few common themes about CBS. The league was most impressed with CBS’s status as the top-rated broadcast network in prime time.

So the NFL made $275 million on a lot of bad games. The striking part? They’re about to make more.

Multiple reports are saying the NFL is generating a massive amount of interest from several networks and the only thing greater than said interest is the amount the networks are willing to pay for the rights.

As the Hollywood Reporter points out, the reason this contract is garnering so much hype is because this is the last NFL contract available for several years and if a network has a slice of the league, viewers will come.

So much will it be worth? The NFL’s current network contracts are worth close to or more than $1 billion with the Monday Night Football contract at $15.2 billion and its Sunday Night Football contract valued at $950 million annually.

Since the networks have set the precedent of increasing the value of television contracts and the Thursday Night contract is the last available contract until 2021, networks are seeing the opportunity to establish themselves among the ranks of networks like CBS, ESPN and NBC.

The Voice Herald has reported that while CBS is not willing to give up one of their prized sports possessions without a fight, networks like NBC, Turner and Fox are gearing up for a bidding war.

While the NFL probably won’t be rewarded a billion dollar bid for TNF, it is likely to at least triple its current contract with CBS. Players, coaches and fans be damned.