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On the eve of the Super Bowl, the National Football League has expanded the number of Thursday night games that will air on NFL Network to 13 games beginning with the 2012 season.
These are the games that were made possible through changes in contracts concluded last year by the league with NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN. They are games the existing networks have to give up that would have aired on Sundays.
There had been a lot of interest from the major networks in the added games, which cover Thursdays in the first half of the season, but the league has chosen to award them to their own network.
The added games are a boost to the NFL Network, which has been struggling to get full national coverage through cable and satellite systems that have balked at paying about 75 cents per subscriber for the carriage.
The NFL Network will now have games on Thursdays from weeks 2 through 15 (skipping week 12, or Thanksgiving Day). However, the network will no longer carry a game on Saturday late in the season.
As part of the contracts signed late last year, the Thanksgiving night game (which is week 12), which was very highly rated on the NFL Network, has been given to NBC. NBC, which has the Sunday night package, also has the first Thursday night game of the season.
“Adding these games to the NFL Network schedule will give more players, teams and cities the primetime stage,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “Our fans can now get an early start on the NFL weekend in the season’s first 15 weeks.”
Goodell said this will mean all 32 NFL teams will play at least one primetime game in 2012. In addition, every club will play on one Thursday following a Sunday game.
Some coaches have been against expanding the number of Thursday night games because of the short time it gives them to prepare and for the players to rest after a Sunday game. In the past, many of the Thursday games were scheduled after a team had a bye week to ease that problem. That will not be the case under the new plan.
Clearly, the coaches’ concerns are secondary to the huge financial incentives involved.
According to the league, the Thursday Night games averaged a record 6.2 million viewers in 2011 (not including over-the-air stations) – topping the average playoff viewership of other sports on cable. The package of games has doubled average viewership from its inaugural season in 2006 (3.1 million viewers).
If the NFL had sold the Thursday games to an outside network, each game could have commanded from $50 million to $100 million on the open market.
The NFL also announced that beginning in 2012, the NFL Network will have a Spanish-language channel.
NFL RedZone, produced by NFL Network, debuted in 2009 and shows every NFL game on Sunday afternoons to keep fans up-to-date in real time.
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