Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

31 Jan 2018

Thursday Night Football to Move to Fox

Thursday Night Football is on the move again.

After two years of the package being split between CBS and NBC, Fox has swooped in and wrapped up the rights for the next five years, ending in 2022 (when the rest of the NFL's national television deals are set to expire).

Fox will broadcast 11 games on Thursday nights from Week 4-Week 15 (excluding Thanksgiving) and will produce the seven games exclusively shown on NFL Network. Early reports indicate that Fox will not use their top broadcasting pair, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, on their Thursday Night broadcasts, though there's no indication as to who they would use instead.

CBS and NBC reportedly both lost money on the TNF deal this year, and were looking to renew their packages for something just under the $45 million per game they paid this past season. Fox instead upped the ante, paying more than $60 million per game on a long-term deal.

Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch also reports that there is a belief that the NFL will provide Fox with a more attractive Thursday Night schedule, given the financial outlay. We'll see how teams respond to that.

Posted by: Bryan Knowles on 31 Jan 2018

33 comments, Last at 06 Feb 2018, 12:05pm by jackiel


by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 01/31/2018 - 4:41pm

Was hoping Thursday night football would move to Sunday afternoon ...

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/31/2018 - 5:16pm

It would be a nice ghetto to stick Buck and Aikman, though.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 01/31/2018 - 7:27pm

May their retinas be burned by the color-rush uniforms

by MilkmanDanimal :: Wed, 01/31/2018 - 7:38pm

Always exciting to know what network I won't be watching as I continue to avoid terrible football games on Thursday night.

by The Ninjalectual :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:49am

Let's hope that the "better matchups" means more Cowboys or Patriots every damn thursday

by jtr :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 11:15am

No team plays two TNF games in a season, with the caveat that week 1 doesn't count because the team isn't being forced to play on short rest. So there's still going to be plenty of bad football teams on Thursdays.

by Nahoj :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:52pm

Due to Thanksgiving, I know the Cowboys played twice on Thursdays this season. I would assume some of the other teams had the same issue.

by Eddo :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 2:23pm

If you don't count week one, since it's not on short rest, there are fourteen weeks with one Thursday game and one week (Thanksgiving) with three, so there are seventeen total games. With 32 teams, that means that two teams will play two Thursday games each year.

by jtr :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 2:36pm

Thanksgiving has always been the exception. I think for scheduling purposes, only the late game is considered to be a Thursday Night game.

by Richie :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 2:21pm

That was the old policy. And that's why there were so many stinkers. But if "the NFL will provide Fox with a more attractive Thursday Night schedule", then that would seem like they'll need to relax the policy on the number of Thursday appearances a team could make.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 3:52pm

More attractive games may refer to matchups.

They tend to be divisional rivalries in recent. Not always but often. The Mexico has gone there too.

But yes, I don't see any reason why the NFL's pursuit would preclude limiting TNF games to one appearance. Believe Dallas and Minnesota had back-to-back TNF games with Thanksgiving and then playing each other the week after. I'm sure they could spin that as being better for everybody. And it probably is.

by jtr :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 4:07pm

They used to be pretty much all division games. Here's the 2014 schedule, there's only one game on a Thursday that isn't a division matchup

Not sure why they moved away from that, seems as good a way as any to try to get interesting matchups when you're not able to just cherrypick the good/popular teams like on SNF. Plus it makes it easier to schedule everybody exactly once; once you've scheduled a Steelers-Ravens game, you just have to pick a week for Browns-Bengals and then you can move on to the other divisions. I think they try to avoid overexposing teams to TNF due to the teams all saying that it sucks to play on Thursday. I think the only way you could get a team to agree to play on Thursday multiple times per season (besides Detroit and Dallas with the traditional Thanksgiving game) would be to make sure one of the games came off the team's bye week.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 9:12am

It's going to be amusing to watch the NFL lose head-to-head to 20 year-old Simpsons reruns on FX.

by Richie :: Wed, 01/31/2018 - 7:40pm

I keep hoping Thursday Night Football will die.

by rpwong :: Wed, 01/31/2018 - 7:58pm

You, me, and apparently everyone else who has commented so far!

I think that the NFL's ratings drop is more about saturation and viewer fatigue than anything else, but that's mostly about my personal experience. It used to be that we watched the Monday game to cap the NFL week, then had a few days to digest and talk about it. On Thursday we started looking ahead, and by the time Sunday rolled around we were excited for more football. TNF has ruined that cycle.

by Richie :: Wed, 01/31/2018 - 9:39pm

"I think that the NFL's ratings drop is more about saturation "

Agreed. I feel that part of the reason the NFL grew to such heights is that the games were just once a week. They were special. Baseball and basketball play every day and the season just goes on forever. Individual games are rarely special. But every NFL game seemed important. But they overdid it.

"TNF has ruined that cycle."

Yep. And for people like me who enjoy gambling and fantasy football, the Thursday games are a wrench in the works.

by jackiel :: Sat, 02/03/2018 - 9:45pm

I think the NFL is perfectly happy with the current situation. It allows them to give diehard fans maximum exposure to the product. In addition, fans are able to see great players and teams more frequently. 10 years ago, a 49ers fan would have a hard time catching AFC West games since they all would come on in the late Sunday window, with the AFC network blacked out in the Bay Area to accommodate showing the 49ers game. Now that issue is somewhat mitigated.

Since NFL broadcasts are some of the highest rated programming a network can show in a given time slot, the networks are also happy with the situation because it gives them more windows to drive lucrative ad sales.

Moving from Sunday and Monday (with an occasional Saturday game) to Thursday, Sunday, and Monday (with the occasional Saturday or early morning London game) allows the same viewer to watch more football. For example, in weeks with a London game, 1 viewer can watch 6 games in a week. That's preferable to the old system in which most games were on Sunday mornings/afternoons. The NFL gets bigger rights fees while the networks get more inventory of quality programming.

by Richie :: Mon, 02/05/2018 - 4:54pm

Of course they are happy now, because they keep selling those games.

The question is if it is a good long-term decision. I'm not positive that it is.

by jackiel :: Tue, 02/06/2018 - 12:05pm

Aside from injuries, I would argue that the biggest risk to the nfl product is quality of play. There are too many coaches who haven’t been able to adapt schemes to the innovations that have occurred at the high school and college levels and to player skill sets that come out of these systems. As Kansas City and philly showed this year, you can have a very productive using college concepts.

by Richie :: Wed, 01/31/2018 - 7:43pm

"The deal includes 11 games per season from Week 4 through Week 15, with the exception of Thanksgiving night. All 11 games will also be simultaneously broadcast on NFL Network, which will exclusively televise seven games in 2018."

If 11 games are on FOX, how will the NFL Network have 7 exclusive broadcasts? Assuming NBC still has the Week 1 and Thanksgiving games on Thursday nights, and no Thursday games in week 17, that leaves only 2 more Thursdays. Are there going to be double headers?

by The Ninjalectual :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:47am

Presumably the 7 aren't all on Thursday

by dbt :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 2:36am

Saturday Night Thursday Night Football is totally a thing once the college season ends.

by dbt :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 2:40am

The only thing that would make TNF tolerable is teams always play on thursday after a bye week, but that probably doesn't work with the schedule and is also probably not compatible with the NFLPA agreement on what constitutes a bye week.

Still though, dump a preseason game, add an extra bye week, and give everybody the sunday off before a TNF game and it would be a huge jump in quality. After thanksgiving when you don't necessarily want a second bye available you can at least have the teams play on saturday if they're going to play the following Thursday.

Ah well, time to leave the universe where the NFL brass care about game quality and come back to the real one.

by Jerry :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 5:47am

I agree completely that if the league insists on playing Thursday games, participants should have a bye the week before.

by rpwong :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 2:00pm

I like the idea, but if we were going to change bye weeks I wouldn't want to do so for the sake of TNF. I'd rather see TNF go away entirely and have a single bye week after w8 when every team gets a break at once. That would give everyone an equal chance to recuperate and re-energize for the stretch run, and I think the late-season quality of play would be much better as a result.

Heck, I'd be willing to go for two bye weeks around the third and two-third marks of the season if that kept players on the field and improved games.

by Richie :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 2:23pm

A week with no NFL games at all? I would hate that.

Maybe better would be to have a 2-week block where half the teams are off one week and half the other week.

by Steve in WI :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 2:00pm

Thank God we are not going to get Buck and Aikman two games a week. Frankly, one is too many.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 3:08pm

Here is my personal pitch to bring Gus Johnson back to do NFL games. He wouldn't quite make Thursday night games worth watching, but it's close.

by MC2 :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 8:08pm

Please, no, anybody but Gus Johnson. If they want annoying fake enthusiasm, they could probably save money by hiring this guy:


by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 02/02/2018 - 3:17pm

Even if he’s over the top at times, I prefer that to Buck’s dull monotone.

by MC2 :: Fri, 02/02/2018 - 7:42pm

Oh, I'm certainly not a fan of Buck, either.

I think when it comes to enthusiasm level, most broadcasters should try to emulate Al Michaels. He does a great job of getting excited when the situation warrants it, but otherwise remaining calm. Listening to his call is similar to watching a game with a fan who has no rooting interest in the game. On the other hand, listening to one of the guys who try to manufacture excitement is like listening to a carnival barker.

by johonny :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 3:07pm

I think I watched one Thursday game this season...I think.

by LionInAZ :: Sat, 02/03/2018 - 3:21pm

Anything that loses money for Fox Sports is OK by me.