Despite declined ratings, unpatriotic players, presidential denunciations, online boycotts and a slew of dud games, the NFL has peddled another Thursday Night Football package for billions — $3.3 billion, to be exact.
The deal was announced just four days before the Super Bowl, the most important football game ever played until the next one. This year it’s a regional contest between two East coast teams of dubious national interest beyond their obnoxious fans. But it’s a grand excuse for a mid-winter party with Doritos in someone else’s living room, then showing up late for work Monday.
Fox shelled out big bucks not because the mid-week games are so compelling. But because live broadcast sports is the thing these days, especially if your regular Thursday night programming is as weak as Fox’s.
The massive contract demonstrates either the enduring Teflon nature of the NFL or the lack of alternative TV fare that draws as big a crowd as grown men knocking each other down. Or both. And it comes after a rough year for the league with a 10 percent decline in ratings, forcing the networks to often offer advertisers make-good ad time.
And growing caution among parents over the sport’s health concerns, especially concussions. And continued outbreaks of off-field thuggery and on-field showboating, over-long games and too many dud match-ups.
Fox won the bidding because, $$$$. But it also committed to keeping games on broadcast TV, very important for a league which sees millions of viewers shucking expensive cable packages, including sports channels ike ESPN.
Disney’s $52.4-billion purchase of most Fox entertainment operations in December, now awaiting regulatory approval, includes the television and movie studios, FX and National Geographic channels.
Fox now plans to build a smaller, focused operation based around the Fox News Channel and the Los Angeles-based broadcast network. Growing its NFL schedule is a crucial piece of the Fox plan to reconstruct its broadcast network around live sports and news. Fox also has the first half of each year’s NASCAR season beginning this month with the Daytona 500.
Players have complained about the short week of preparation for Thursday football games. However, the NFL claims there’s no increase in injuries as a result. The reason for mid-week games is simple: $3.3 billion. And, hey, there’s a 10-day respite afterward, which doesn’t seem to draw complaints.