The new CBS/NFL Network television package is a win for the league (naturally), its players and football traditionalists alike -- and it won't require much adjustment from viewers.
That's my quick reaction to news that CBS has bought into the NFL's Thursday/Saturday package, agreeing to produce all 16 games and air eight of them. The first 14 will remain on Thursday night, but the final two will come via a Week 16 doubleheader that resurrects and updates the traditional late-season Saturday games.
Financial terms weren't immediately available, but the Sports Business Journal has reported initial bids were in the high $200 million range. Still, the public terms of this arrangement reinforce what an unbelievable position of leverage the NFL maintains.
The league will collect hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue from CBS for the 2014 season, with an option to renew for 2015, but its NFL Network retained the right to simulcast the CBS games. The NFL Network will then assume exclusive airing of the final eight games of the package, potentially capturing at least some of the extra eyes generated by CBS' over-the-air broadcasts.
We discussed the quality of play on Thursday night throughout the season, but in the end, there was no statistical difference that I could find between the way games were played on Thursdays versus Sundays and Mondays. And last week, the NFL released injury data that showed players were hurt at about the same rate during games on all three days.
Meanwhile, the league opened a door to its past by revisiting the Saturday games once conceived as a replacement for college football seasons that end weeks before the NFL. Those Saturday afternoon games were phased out in the mid-2000s, replaced by an occasional Saturday night game on the NFL Network or as a Monday Night Football replacement for ESPN.
The new package allows for the doubleheader on the penultimate week of the season. The first game will have a late afternoon kickoff and the second will start in prime time. Given the short-term nature of this deal, there is flexibility to expand if the league chooses. I'm not a great fantasy football analyst, but with so many leagues determining their championships in Week 16, there is potential for high interest in viewing as many Week 16 games as possible.
Finally, NFL players should be rejoicing as well. Their salary cap is determined by a formula that determines the league's total revenue, which includes television rights. Conceivably, the new NFL package will provide each team with additional salary-cap space starting in the 2015 season.