This week, the Wall Street Journal had a story that spoke of a possible plan that had the NFL considering adding a second Thursday Night broadcast, thus creating doubleheaders. The NFL would sell the package to Netflix, Google or YouTube and in the process collect at least $3 billion.
It took about five minutes for the NFL public relation department to flatly deny that the league had such intentions. One person who missed that press release was Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. He told the Sports Business Journal the following:
“We could easily have a doubleheader on Thursday. I don’t think that is out of the realm of thought, we haven’t set up how we will do it.”
While all of this conversation is fun, the NFL is not going to do Thursday doubleheaders. They would not have an east coast audience for the games. The leak to the WSJ was a clever ploy by the NFL to scare the cable operators into adding or giving better placement to the NFL Network.
As of today, the NFL is the middle of a $27 billion deal with FOX, NBC, CBS, ESPN and the NFL Network that ends in 2022. Of course, it is possible that they could add a second Thursday night game, but that is highly unlikely.
The league is not happy that the Thursday Night Football Game of the Week on the NFL Network is available to only about 65 million homes. Meanwhile, ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports 1 and the Turner Networks are all around the 98- to 100-million home mark. By talking about offering a package to Netflix, Google, YouTube, Apple or Hulu, they scare the cable companies.
There is no doubt that broadband partners like Netflix, Google, You Tube and Apple may very well be the future of how viewers consume their entertainment. At present, none of those broadband companies carry live sports, but they are all flush with cash and that will get the attention of the NFL.
Here is the more likely direction that the NFL is headed and it makes more sense: at the end of 2014 season, the DirecTV Sunday Ticket contract expires. At present, the NFL gets $4 billion from the satellite provider for the exclusive rights to show all of the games in a subscription service.
There is no question that Sunday Ticket could bring the league as much as twice the $4 billion if they went with a Netflix-Google combo. Hulu, Apple and Roku would all be players and the money made off of that deal could offset the losses coming from Thursday night football with plenty of cash to spare.
By 2022, we will see if the cable has been cut by a number of homes and if the league thinks adding another package makes sense. More likely, they will offer the NFL Network on Netflix, Google, You Tube or another broadband subscription service. That would give them a much larger audience and might be the better play in the long run.