Thursday night football isn’t going away anytime soon.
Although there have been concerns about the quality of play of Thursday games on the NFL Network and whether having teams play on short rest is in the best interest of player safety, NFL Network President and Chief Executive Steve Bornstein defended the games recently.
“I think it’s worked out pretty nicely," Bornstein said. “The fans seem to like it, our ratings are going up.”
Bornstein shied away from addressing complaints about the quality of the games. Sportscaster Dan Patrick and former NFL coach turned NFL commentator Tony Dungy, both members of NBC’s football coverage team are among those who have been critical of the games.
Dungy called the Thursday games a "big mistake" on Patrick's syndicated show, while Patrick has said the games are not "quality football."
Most teams play only one Thursday game per-season, Bornstein noted. However, teams that play in NBC’s opening-season Thursday night game also often play another Thursday game, as is the case this season for the Ravens and Broncos.
While Bornstein defended the Thursday schedule, he also said no more Thursday games would be added. There has been some speculation that the NFL would look to create additional games, including a possible opening doubleheader.
“That was not anything we seriously considered,” Bornstein said of the doubleheader.
Currently, the NFL Network carries 13 Thursday games. Bornstein, who also oversees the league’s TV partnerships with other networks, did not rule out taking some of those games off the NFL Network to create another package to sell to a cable or broadcast outlet. That would would create another source of TV revenue for the league.
“We constantly think about how to reformulate our packages to maximize them,” Bornstein said.
Among the networks that would probably jump at the chance to get football are NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports 1, the cable outlets owned by NBC and Fox, respectively. Turner’s TBS and TNT channels could also be potential bidders, given their appetite for sports.
It is likely that the NFL would take eight games from its own channel to sell elsewhere. It has to keep some games on the channel to justify the significant fee it charges pay-TV distributors to carry it, which is more than $1 per-subscriber, per-month, according nto SNL Kagan, an industry consulting firm. Bornstein said he “can’t envision a day” when the NFL Network wouldn’t have some games on it.
The NFL has also been flirting with digital media players, which has led to speculation that at some point the league might make its games available over a nonbroadcast or cable-TV platform.
“We’re only at the beginning of the digital age,” Bornstein said. “It behooves everybody to explore all the options, we would be remiss if we didn’t.”
Another concept Bornstein said the NFL could explore down the road is offering individual games to fans via pay-per-view. “Our objective should be to support the football fan, I don’t want to rule anything out.”
With the NFL Network celebrating its 10-year anniversary and firmly entrenched in the television landscape after years of struggling to get full distribution, Bornstein wants to give football fans more behind-the-scenes access to the game and the league.
Among the ideas that Bornstein is considering for the NFL Network is an in-season version of “Hard Knocks,” the show the league makes for HBO that follows one team through training camp and the preseason.
“Anytime you lift the kimono on how it’s done, people have great interest,” he said.
Bornstein, who was one of the key architects of ESPN and has been with the NFL Network since its launch, is leaving the channel next May. He won’t say what his plans are, but he isn’t ready to call it a day.
“I’m not going to be another rich retired Jew in Beverly Hills,” he cracked.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.
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