By Harry Allison
With mounting criticism of the quality of every-week Thursday football, scattered suggestions have emerged in recent weeks that the NFL could pull the plug on the experiment.
Those suggestions are stronger than that; per a source with knowledge of the situation, the league will be considering the possibility of ending, or at least limiting, Thursday Night Football.
The current contract with CBS and NBC runs through 2017, which means that changes to the package could be made by 2018 — barring a renegotiation.
The league realizes that, with every team playing once on a short week each season, many of the Thursday games necessarily will have reduced appeal. Adding extra prime-time games to the Sunday/Monday inventory also has created a sense that the league has saturated the marketplace with stand-alone evening games.
Options include (but aren’t limited to) getting rid of Thursday games completely and possibly starting the package at Thanksgiving and continuing it through the end of the season, with games likely to generate broad interest selected in April for November/December programming. Thursday Night Football debuted a decade ago as a device for providing game content for NFL Network, allowing the league-owned operation to generate higher fees from cable and satellite providers.
As the source explained it, the money generated from NFL Network due to the annual slate of exclusive games isn’t large enough to make it an impediment to broader efforts to strike the right balance between giving national audiences enough, but not too much, pro football — and to ensure that games played in prime time are truly worthy of being seen.