As the two sides in the NFL lockout reportedly get closer to a labor agreement (let us certainly hope this is the case), one development that has come from the talks is the compromise over a proposed 18 game season. As the players did not want two extra games citing injuries and increased meaningless late season contests, the NFL proposed making up for lost revenue by expanding the late season 8 game Thursday/Saturday Night Football schedule to encompass a full season as early as 2012. The players seem to be open to the idea.
In today’s issue of Sports Business Journal, John Ourand and Daniel Kaplan report that the NFL has already begun to shop around an 8 game package to cable networks. According to today’s story, the contract could be worth as much as $700 million. Now with NFL Network firmly entrenched with the late season package, the league would keep the status quo. But with the possibility of getting more revenue, the NFL is looking to another cable partner to air the first part of the contract.
Ourand and Kaplan write that two early favorites to gain the first half would be Turner Sports and the NBC Sports Group.
Turner and Comcast have emerged as the most serious bidders for such a package. Comcast wants the package for Versus, while Turner, which carried a Sunday night NFL package on TNT from 1990-97, has privately craved returning NFL games to its schedule. Turner could put the package on TBS, TNT or truTV.
Fox is expected to kick the tires on a package for its FX network, but cable industry sources said cable operators have surcharge protection against FX, which would make it difficult for FX to afford such a package.
No other dark horses have emerged yet, according to sources. It’s believed that ESPN would at least take a look at the Thursday night package, as would Spike TV.
The eight games would come from CBS and Fox. NBC has the opening Thursday Night Football game from the home of the defending Super Bowl Champion as part of its Sunday Night package. In Week 2, the first half of the Thursday Night Football schedule would begin and would go until Week 9. NFL Network would take over in Week 10 as it has since 2008.
Once a collective bargaining agreement is signed and sealed, one would expect that the NFL would start bidding for the new package. We’ll continue to monitor the story.