There have been a lot of questions and commentaries about why the NFL’s prime time ratings have taken a hit this year. The NFL is already looking at moving London games back to a normal time and now they are apparently looking at Thursday night games and whether or not they oversaturated the market with content. Any change to the Thursday Night schedule may help Monday and Sunday night ratings, but it would be a hit to the NFL Network.
All four leagues have their own dedicated network. All four major leagues also have games shown on those networks. If the NFL suddenly takes away or shrinks the Thursday night schedule, what is the real point of the NFL network?
Originally games were aired on the league’s channel because it drove viewers to either demand their cable carrier put the NFL Network on their cable tier, or viewers to subscribe. The main driver to these channels is games.
So what would the NFL Network look like without actual games? Probably very much like any other specific sport programming on competitor networks. ESPN has four NFL specific shows that air during the week — NFL Primetime, NFL Live, NFL Matchup and NFL Insiders — and most viewers can get their NFL fix on ESPN. This doesn’t even include any programming on Fox Sports or NBC Sports.
The next argument is that the NFL is airing these Thursday games on broadcast anyways. The NFL Network already lost its advantage due to selling those rights. Those games still have a ton of NFL Network branding built around it. Getting rid of Thursday games — or cutting them back — limits that branding. It limits NFL Network’s recognition.
The right mix was probably what the NFL did when it launched its network. Eight Thursday games exclusively on NFL Network. It creates scarcity around the actual games and a reason for the NFL Network to exist. It would be kind of ironic if the NFL ended up hurting its own network because league powers caused Thursday Night Football to be overexposed. If the goal was build a brand that was picked up by major networks that may already be done. But getting rid of games completely and limit NFL Network’s content probably isn’t a good idea either.