The National Football League has a lot on its plate right now, including figuring out how to resolve its labor dispute in time for the opening of training camps at the end of next month.
But that distraction isn't slowing the league down when it comes to figuring out ways to make more money. It is out there shopping around a new package of primetime Thursday night games for the first half of the season, which could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in new rights fees. Potential bidders include Comcast, parent of the cable sports channel Versus, and the league's own NFL Network, which already has a Thursday package for the second half of the season. Disney's ESPN, home of "Monday Night Football," will also sniff around.
The NFL doesn't need our advice, but we're going to offer it anyway. Be selective when choosing a cable network.There may be networks out there that cater to young men who have the money to spend on your product, but remember your brand and don't put it on a channel that has other programming that could tarnish it. Also, steer clear of networks that don't have any sort of history of televising professional sports. The NFL doesn't need to be anybody's lab rat. I realize the same things were said about Fox when it landed the NFL, but Fox parent News Corp. was no stranger to professional sports around the globe, just in the United States.
There is an automatic assumption that the buyer will be a cable network. While the odds are it will, is it out of the realm of possibility that a broadcaster wouldn't at least kick the tires? After all, eight games of football is a lot of ratings points and a pretty big promotional platform. Disney's ABC could certainly use the ratings.
Given how the broadcast networks all like to boast about the money that is now rolling in from cable and satellite distributors in so-called retransmission consent fees, perhaps it's time to invest that money in more big-event programming. The NFL should at least make visits to the broadcasters and not just figure that one of them wouldn't bite on Thursday games.
After the NFL locks in a new TV partner, it should try to strengthen its relationship with Univision, the nation's leading Spanish-language broadcaster whose ratings among key demographics often rival the big English-language channels.
Already the official Spanish-language radio broadcaster for the NFL and a partner with the NFL on a website, the league should simulcast a game every week on Univision's television network. The NFL has made a big push to grow its Hispanic audience, and crafting a package of games for Univision to telecast in Spanish would be a big boost. Last fall, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league was committed to connecting with its "passionate and growing Latino fan base."
Such an arrangement would require some cooperation from its current TV partners, perhaps in the form of providing more commercial inventory in their games or a chance to sell spots on Univision during its simulcasts. If Goodell wants it to happen, it can happen.
-- Joe Flint