Thursday night NFL games have historically been on the boring side, typically consisting of irrelevant matchups and a noticeable lack of star power. Not surprisingly, the NFL for a long time, naturally, wanted to keep its most compelling matchups reserved for Sunday or Monday night.
This current season, however, the matchups have not only been compelling, but have delivered in the excitement department as well, with the Green Bay Packers’ crazy Hail Mary win over the Lions a few weeks back being a prime example. As it stands now, fans looking to get a glimpse of the NFL’s Thursday night action need a cable subscription. But come 2016, NFL games on Thursday might be streamable, and Apple may looking to secure the rights to those NFL Thursday games for its rejuvenated Apple TV or even, perhaps, directly to iOS devices once Verizon’s mobile deal with the NFL expires in 2018.
According to a report in SportsBusinessDaily, the NFL recently told TV networks and digital companies – including Apple, Google and others – that bidding for “Thursday Night Football” is now open for business.
The league last week sent formal RFPs to the usual TV partners and outlets — CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC and Turner — that outlined the NFL’s plan to sell a one-year deal with a league option for a second year. The league also sent RFPs to several digital companies, like Google, Yahoo, Apple and Amazon, to stream the entire Thursday night schedule on a non-exclusive basis, sources said. The league’s initial plan would have the digital streams serve as a simulcast of the television production — with the same ads and in-game production features. The league expects bidding to start in the low $300M for the television package, with a nominal escalator in year two, sources said.
While Apple joining forces with the NFL would have sounded preposterous even two years ago, such a partnership today actually makes some sense. With Apple’s TV subscription plans currently on hold, securing the digital rights to NFL games on Thursday night would help differentiate both the Apple TV and iOS devices from rival products.
As to whether or not there’s enough of a market for Thursday night NFL games to justify Apple submitting a proposal, consider that Yahoo’s live and free stream of an NFL game earlier this year completely blew away expectations. When the dust settled, the live stream netted 15.2 million unique viewers, 33.6 million streams and over 460 million total minutes of consumed video. And the kicker? The matchup was a complete stinker as it featured the Buffalo Bills taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The takeaway? People can’t get enough of the NFL no matter who’s playing.