NFL denies that it’s thinking about sacking Thursday Night Football

Image: NFL

After sportswriter Mike Florio wrote in an online post Sunday that the National Football League might “pull the plug on the experiment,” the NFL issued a statement to CNBC:

Live NFL games are the biggest viewership draw on pay-TV and broadcast, but Deadline reported that fans have complained the extra TNF games are oversaturating the market.

Some support the option of dialing back the NFL’s perceived Thursday night broadcasting overstep: Former football player and coach John Madden recently accused the NFL of trying to fit some of the more boring game matchups into too many prime time television windows. Another contributing factor may be that with only two or three days to recover, the players themselves are just not ready to go all-in on Thursday nights.

As of last week, NFL ratings were still struggling. Viewership briefly bounced back—just a bit—with aired matchups between the Seahawks and the Patriots, and between the Cowboys and the Steelers, but ESPN’s Monday Night Football continues to be down double digits vs. last year and all 12 games this season have faced declines, according to an industry update analysis from Barclays.

RELATED: While NFL ratings decline, NFL ad rates keep going up

Florio had written that the NFL “realizes that, with every team playing once on a short week each season, many of the Thursday games necessarily will have reduced appeal. Adding extra prime-time games to the Sunday/Monday inventory also has created a sense that the league has saturated the marketplace with stand-alone evening games.”

The entire outlook could be worse, though. Barclays’ research report released Friday noted that NBC’s Sunday Night Football game pitting the Packers against the Redskins had 18.7 million viewers, up 4% compared to last year. The Sunday afternoon regional game between the Ravens and the Cowboys on CBS was up 28%.

“The Cowboys have been good for viewership and last week’s Cowboy/Steelers game was the most watched game of the NFL season,” wrote Kannan Venkateshwar, media, cable and satellite equity researcher for Barclays, in the report. “The national window was down 11% and Fox’s single header was down 18%.”

Although major broadcasters are currently dealing with a ratings decline for the NFL, they can take solace in the knowledge that average cost for ads during games across all networks is trending up.

According to Standard Media Index’s numbers for September, the average 30-second spot among networks showing NFL games in September was $489,193, up 4% from the same period last year and up 10% from 2014.