Let’s get something out of the way: if Thursday Night Football is eliminated, it will hurt the NFL’s coffers, at least in the short term. That much is, in essence, fact. Being able to consistently dominate one night of television a week–even in a year when ratings have not been great–is no small feat and the hit to NFL Network may be notable.
All that being said, Thursday Night Football needs to go. It over-saturates the market. I love football more than some extended family members and I’ve found it tough to work myself up into sitting through some of the Thursday Night games this season.
For the average fan, it’s just too much football–especially given the low level of play and lackluster matchups that have become a trademark of Thursdays in recent years. There would certainly be a ratings hit–in the short term. But draw it out over a longer period of time and this would help the NFL’s ratings which, even amidst recovering numbers, have been alarmingly low in prime time.
Getting rid of TNF may even open up Monday Night Football for some better matchups so that it can become a ratings giant again (let’s face it, nobody wants to watch Jets-Colts next week).
Concerns are NFL Network are certainly valid, but the solution is easy: after the league’s current deals with FOX and CBS expire (in 2022), restructure them so that the NFL Network can broadcast one afternoon game nationally per week.
The ratings on it would almost certainly be lower than Thursday Night Football and it would almost certainly be tough to hammer out a deal between the three sides, but it would force cable companies to keep carrying the network. From 2018 (when any changes to TNF would be made) to 2022, perhaps the NFL could make the two or three Saturday night games per year exclusively broadcast on NFL Network to keep it above water or continue slowly phase out TNF so there are still games on it every week.
In any case, continuing on with Thursday Night Football as is would hurt the NFL in the long term. Changes are necessary if the league expects to continue its dominance into the next decade and beyond.