NFL Eyes Partner for New Thursday Night Package

RFPs Were Sent Out Last Week

Eight million viewers on Thursday night are not enough for the National Football League.

The pro football last week sent out requests for proposal to its extant national carriers, as well as other media players, with bids for a one-year contract that could kick off with the 2014 campaign, expected to be returned later this week.

Looking to up its Nielsen ante, as well as revenue base, the NFL is offering a one-year package that could include eight games in the first half of the season, while keeping in-house service, NFL Network, in the primetime action. NFL Network, which finished its second 13-game slate with the 2013 season, averaged 8 million viewers, including watchers in the DMAs of the participating clubs’ markets.

That’s by far the lowest average of the NFL’s game package, although NFL Network’s distribution base of 72 million significantly lags those of CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN. Burgeoning cable services like Fox Sports 1 and NBCSN, as well as TNT, which doesn’t tip off its exclusive NBA Thursday night doubleheader until after Halloween, also figure to have interest in the new package.

Sources familiar with the deal,though, believe the NFL wants a broadcast player -- and its larger household base -- to step to the plate to establish the largest possible audience. In turn, that would set a new benchmark for a multiyear deal that could begin with the 2015 season.

Although NFL Network will lose Thursday night games at the front end of the schedule, they may be replaced by Saturday contests – drawn from Sunday-afternoon carriers CBS and Fox -- later in the season. NFL Network collects a monthly subscriber fee of $1.25.

“NFL Network has done a tremendous job turning Thursday into a night for NFL football and will continue to do so,” NFL Media COO Brian Rolapp in a statement. “We want to make it even bigger and accelerate its promotion and growth with an additional partner.”