Before you get excited, this new and expensive Fox deal does not cede the rights of the NFL Network from broadcasting its share of Thursday night games throughout the 17 week NFL season. Yes, I know. I wish I had better news. There is still some good news in this announcement however. Fox will be spending $600 million per year over the next 5 years to air the Thursday night games — 11 total per season. The NFL Network will pick up the other 7 weeks, fortunately limiting its exposure to the first 3 weeks of the season when there hasn’t been enough time to find out who the best teams in the league are. Fox picks up weeks 4 through 15, then the NFL Network has the last 3 Thursday night games. The exception for the 2018-2019 season is that the NFL will air the Thanksgiving Day game.
As much a ray of sunshine this is for NFL fans, the first problem I see is who the broadcasting team will be. There are so few broadcasters and color men worth listening to, the choice by Fox will be critical. Listening to Troy Aikman has been agonizing and there is no hope in sight to replace him. I’m open for suggestions on this one because if Fox can do what NBC did, which is to team up Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth, they could be a force to be reckoned with to yank all Thursday night games away from the too-awful NFL Network.
One underlying problem is that there have been more complaints by players about the Thursday night games, saying they continue to expose players to unnecessary injuries and that the general quality of play is reduced during the short weeks. Personally, I could care less about the players complaints. For the average Joe or Jane, it is like having to work a double shift — with 4 days rest between shifts. If the response is that football is a physically demanding game that does not compare to your 9 to 5 daily job, simply say that is true — and there is also no comparison to the hourly wage between the two either. During free agency players will tell their fans that football is a business. So it is.
As for the actual visual part of watching “Thursday Night Football” Fox has tons of experience and is likely to do an even better job broadcasting than its usual Sunday faire. They can focus all their resources on a single game and the pregame show is likely to either have a makeover done or will have an entirely new team. Bradshaw is getting too old for this, and Jimmy Johnson is close to the same point. But like the broadcasters and color men, finding someone that will actually want fans to tune in will be a second challenge for the Fox sports network.
There are a few side notes to the deal. Fox gets the broadcast and digital rights to the Thursday night broadcasts, so other streamers of digital content such as Amazon won’t be able to negotiate with the NFL for the Internet broadcast rights. Second, the digital rights issue means Fox will be broadcasting to mobile devices, increasing its own revenue stream in the process. The Fox viewing audience for the 2017 regular season games averaged just under 23 million viewers.
Between its Sunday night agreement and this new Thursday nights package, Fox will have the lion’s share of games to broadcast. One can only hope that in addition to the NFL Network beginning to fade away, ESPN will be left out in the cold as well. Football was made for the public airwaves, not to be hijacked by cable stations that in general are having the plug pulled on them.