Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Who Gets NFL's Thursday Night Games In 2015?


Peter King is reporting that a portion of the NFL Network's Thursday night games will be carved away and sold to the highest bidder. So who will the highest bidder be? We can already count CBS and ESPN out because they won't be willing to spend extra cash when they already have successful packages already in existence.

Fox and NBC could come out as winners. It would help Fox directly compete even more with ESPN and for NBCSN, it would serve as karma for losing out on the 2006 Thursday night rights which were awarded to NFL Network. But in my opinion, I don't think either of them win out.

This package will be Turner's for the taking. As noted here by Kinja.com, from the former managing editor of Bleacher Report (who just left in August), Turner wants to start a sports TV network just like everyone else:

There is also a long-term hope of launching a sports lifestyle channel (perhaps with BR as the brand). But Turner's renewing NBA deal and/or getting in on NFL bidding will be large factor in launching that channel.

Turner is slowly building up arsenal through it's increase in online video and increase in reporters at the Bleacher Report to basically build infrastructure for a sports television network, which could lure more ad money and more carriage fees with the addition of the NFL and the NBA.

How would Turner pay for it? They already have major carraige payouts from cable operators because they own TNT, TBS etc. and they will probably drop golf like they dropped NASCAR. I also believe that because the NBA and Turner are so closely aligned together that Turner will not be due for as much of a large increase in fees as many expect. Turner would probably be more willing to pay at a premium than NBC and Fox, who have so many other properties which they need to keep or are fighting to acquire. 

NBC and Fox still need to bid for Big Ten rights and need to keep their soccer rights (both domestically and internationally). They also have huge fees to pay for the Olympics and the World Cup respectively. Will it be worth it to pay at a premium for 6-8 NFL games which aren't even popular with fans if you can't make a profit and have so many other obligations?

Why Does NFL Want Turner?

The NFL would be very useful for Turner because it would help diversify their brand even more. They would be able to expose their brand to networks such as Cartoon Network, HLN and CNN; which target audiences which the NFL is trying to bring in. The NFL can also utilize Turner to help build it's network and online media enterprises even further than it is right now just as Turner has done with the NBA. Turner is the perfect ally to team with your league in order to help promote the league more and to help NFL Net gain more carriage, if it's paired with CNN/TBS/TNT.

Turner, as mentioned before, could also turn truTV into a sports lifestyle network powered by Bleacher Report which focused on the Xs and Os but also dives into the culture and celebrity of sports, which is an angle that millenials may be more interested in (aka what Grantland does on YouTube). They could also turn the network into "the players' club" and give ex-athletes as much shine as they can get (similar to what NBATV does with "Open Court"). They would also have access to a library of sports docs/interviews from HBO and CNN which can be easily re-purposed and journalists from B/R, who have credibility such as Mike Freeman.

This is a wild guess, but if this were to occur, I wouldn't be surprised if it sped up the rumors that CBS and Time Warner would merge together and if Turner would merge it's sports operation with CBS' sports network which already exist. I also wouldn't be shocked if CBS divested a 50% stake in their net to Turner, if they were able to acquire NFL rights (but those are all hypothetical).

On another note, I wouldn't mind if an Internet company won the rights and slowly started the process of breaking the sports cable bubble. Maybe Barry Diller, founder of Fox who understands what it takes to break into the market with NFL football, could make Aereo a content producer and win some NFL rights?

Keith Olbermann did an excellent job covering baseball for TBS during the playoffs and the studio show was probably the only thing which shined bright in all of TBS' coverage. I would expect TBS to pick up his option next year.

But the question is, would ESPN be happy about that? The bigger question is, will Olbermann still be at ESPN by this time next year? I don't know.
I don't think Olbermann is happy that he constantly gets moved to ESPNEWS because of live sports when he was promised 11pm on ESPN2 and because of that, I'm not sure if the partnership lasts as long as he might want it too. 

I could see K.O. moving to the internet and doing a political/sports hybrid YouTube network/podcast rather than staying at ESPN where he's always timeshifted and can't attain a constant viewership. Or maybe he stays at ESPN and becomes his own boss through a venture which involves YouTube/podcasting and appearances on SportsCenter and other shows like Bill Simmons and Nate Silver, which doesn't revolve around a daily TV show.

Whether he leaves ESPN or not, I'm not sure. But I know for sure that he will not have the same show he has right now in a year from now and he will probably be back on TBS for their MLB coverage next year.

Kenny Mayne Speaks Candidly About New ESPN Deal: ‘It Was Either Quit or Do This’

  • Kenny Mayne will no longer be doing videos for ESPN and instead will be a full-time backup anchor for the late-night SportsCenter. This is better for the viewers, who probably haven't seen much of Mayne over the past couple of years, but I know Mayne probably isn't happy with the increased workload after having so many lax years doing ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine exclusively. 
  • Good news though, is that Mayne will still be doing videos for Funny or Die. It's a good move for ESPN to let their personalities shine online even if it's not on their own website. ESPN's talent have a lot more skills than reading sports highlights so if you can give them the leeway to pursue other endeavors, it's always beneficial for you because talent is more happy than they would be if you restricted them. 
  • Rumors circulated that Disney could be selling ABC's owned and operated stations. Although it was later revealed that Disney is no longer pursuing such a deal, I think it would've been interesting to see what would happen. If they can find an owner who is cordial and will continue to distribute Disney's syndicated programming such as Scripps, then I think it's a good idea because the market to sell stations is at an all time high right now. Local TV stations are some of the most valuable properties in television because a lot of people still watch local news and political campaigns love to spend on commercials.
  • It would also have been interesting if they sold to someone who may not be inclined to be cordial such as Sinclair Broadcast Group, which has a history of preempting programming and showing their own political documentaries and series-es. If Sinclair acquired ABC's TV stations and Disney/Sinclair built up bad blood, would ABC move to cable? And would Sinclair start it's own broadcast network, which could become competitive in sports rights and bust the sports right bubble open even more? Oh the possibilities........
  • Campus Insiders is the future of how consumers consume sports. Don't be surprised if the ACC or another conference buys back it's third tier/online rights from ESPN and sells them to Campus Insiders. C.I. is just starting off but they're providing anyone with a computer access to watch college athletics without paying a dime. The ACC has had their conference restricted through the internet because in order to watch ACC games on ESPN3, you need to be authenticated and have a cable/satellite subscription, which some people don't have because they're cord cutters.
  • Through a website like Campus Insiders though, anyone and everyone has access to games online which helps build exposure for teams and conferences and avoids piracy. Living in Baltimore, I have more access to the Mountain West conference than I ever did before. I couldn't afford the sports pack so I never watched the old "the mtn. Network," and I needed to be a subscriber of ESPN to access ESPN3. And even if there were games offered for free on ESPN3, I wasn't exposed to them due to lack of promotion.
  • An institution like Campus Insiders lets the Mountain West shine by picking their own timeslots rather than being placed in a timeslot on ESPN which they don't want. It's also a small enough outlet that it lets the Mountain West keep their leverage with big partners like ESPN.  The Mountain West conference has the most ideal contract for the situation it's in (big games on CBS/ESPN, smaller games on Campus Insiders w/ more promotion) and if I was a conference without a network like the ACC, Big 12 or American, I would sign up with Campus Insiders as well. It's the best way to steal the NFL's infamous strategy of spreading the wealth and increasing exposure.
  • Keep your ESPN connections so that they still cover you on SportsCenter and College Gameday but also sign up with Campus Insiders, who will treat you like kings and provide maximum exposure/promotion through social media unlike ESPN and Fox, who are busy promoting the SEC, Big Ten, Pac 12, Big East (basketball). 
  • Being a part of ESPN's family of properties helps when you have something big going for you (for example: Clemson/Florida State, which was the game of the week on ESPN last week) but if there's nothing going on with your conference (especially the ACC), you tend to get lost in the shuffle.


Walt Gekko said...

Personally, what I see happening is this:

Thursday nights remain status quo.

NBC gets the rights for NBCSN on what is supposed to be the Thursday night package, but instead does arrangements with Disney/ESPN where ESPN goes back to airing Sunday night games like it used to and NBC airs a Monday night doubleheader, split between NBC and NBCSN, with Game 1 at 7:30 PM ET/4:30 PM PT on NBC East/NBCSN West, Game 2 at 11:00 PM ET/8:00 PM PT on NBCSN East/NBC West. This would be beneficial for NBC on a couple of fronts:

1. It gives the NBC Networks both halves of a Monday doubleheader with a game in prime time on NBC and an "outside prime time" spot on NBCSN.

2. With a 7:35 PM ET kickoff in the east, most weeks it would mean that the first half of the doubleheader ends in time for local news to start on time (something NBC stations would be happy about) and likely keeps the more casual viewer likely to only see the NBC half of the doubleheader with NBC for "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon," "Late Night With Seth MacFarlane" (the new late night lineup that starts in March) and "Last Call With Carson Daly" as well as for the TODAY show on Tuesday morning. At the same time, the more loyal NFL fan can simply switch over to NBCSN (if in the east) or come over from NBCSN (if in the west) for the second half of the doubleheader.

3. It would keep Thursday games to one per team, which most real fans want. Also, the NCAA game on ESPN does take viewers away from the NFL Thursday games.

Jessie Karangu said...

I think this is a cool idea but I can almost guarantee it won't happen only because NBC and ESPN are already so tied up branding-wise with Sundays and Mondays respectively.

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