Insiders Say NBC Has the Best Chance at Getting the NFL’s Thursday Night Package

Winning bid could go for close to $800 million

The National Football League is poring over a handful of formal offers for a new Thursday night TV package, and sources with skin in the game believe the top bidder will be revealed within the next seven to 10 days. While the bids are effectively sealed, insiders say NBC has the best shot at landing the single-season showcase.

Submissions from current rights holders CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN are in hand, as is an offer from former NFL partner Turner Sports. (TNT carried a slate of eight September-October NFL games from 1990-97.) Handicappers last week said that NBC likely has the upper hand in the silent auction, given its oft-demonstrated willingness to outbid rivals for high-profile sports rights and a pressing need to repair the sucking chest wound that is its Thursday night programming lineup.

[NBC] spent $2 billion on the NHL and another four and change on the Olympics,” said one rival sports executive. “They outbid ESPN and Fox by $1 billion to hang onto the Olympics for another 10 years, so why wouldn’t they dig deep [for a second NFL package]?”

NBC Sports is staying mum on its Thursday night prospects, but network chief Bob Greenblatt has endorsed the proposal. “We’d love to have more NFL games,” the NBC entertainment chairman said during last week’s Television Critics Association gathering. “Thursday night games might be really interesting to us.”

A second night of NFL games also would go a long way toward alleviating the pressure on the Peacock’s Thursday comedy lineup, which is currently averaging a miserly 1.1 in the adults 18-49 demo. While NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football is the league’s lowest-rated package, the 2.8 it delivered this season would be nothing short of a godsend for NBC.

Sources said the NFL was hoping to scare up between $750 million and $800 million for the slate, although plans to simulcast a number of the games on NFL Net are likely to drive the price down. (The addition of five TNF telecasts allowed the network to boost its affiliate fee to $1.34 per sub per month, making it the second priciest channel on the dial. Removing games would violate the terms of NFL Net’s carriage agreements.)

Naturally, the NFL isn’t looking to beef up revenues at the expense of its own network. “For the foreseeable future, we’ll have 13 games,” NFL Media COO Brian Rolapp told Adweek before the start of the 2012 season. “There are no plans to put those on and take those off.”

Unless Fox comes away with the new slate, expect the NFL to keep the winning bid under wraps until after the Super Bowl (Feb. 2).