NFL's Brand of 'Must-See TV': The Trouble with Thursday Night Football
Starting this season, we’ll be seeing more NFL games on TV. This is a bad thing.
Don’t get me wrong—I love the NFL. I love almost everything about it (I’m looking at you, modified sudden death). But the league moving to a full-time Thursday night schedule, with a prime-time weeknight game for every week of the NFL season, is a little bothersome.
Green Bay and Chicago are facing off in the first game of NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football—a great matchup under disappointing circumstances. Both the Packers and Bears will be playing their first two games of the season in a span of five days.
Every team will deal with this short week once (with two teams facing off each Thursday over the next 16 weeks, you can do the math), so the issue of scheduling isn’t "if" but "how soon."
While the Packers and Bears get their late-weeknight tilt out of the way early, fellow conference foes New Orleans, Atlanta and Philadelphia won't face their short weeks until after Thanksgiving. As all of these teams could be competing for the same wild-card spots in the postseason, that hardly seems equitable.
I know what you're thinking: More football on TV! Huzzah!
Slow your roll for just a second. Are you really that excited to watch your team on a Thursday night? And that's if you actually have NFL Network, which many of you still do not.
Never mind the players not having recovered from Sunday's action. A lot of fans aren't going to be ready for a four-day turnaround either. And if you're one of the select few that still goes to games in person, you're probably not getting home before early Friday morning.
But Thursday night football...excuse me, Thursday Night Football, isn’t about butts in seats so much as butts on couches with TVs turned on and remotes in hand. This expansion of the schedule is the NFL's warning shot to networks and advertisers, all competing for the same eyeballs in Thursday night prime time.
While NFLN will grow its little product on its own network, one is left to wonder how likely those games will stay there. Would NBC spend money developing a new Parks & Rec when it can just add another NFL game to the network's lineup? In this age of Netflix and DVR, the NFL has proven that football is the only must-see TV that still exists.
Speaking personally, I'm squeamish about handing over another block of time to the NFL. Already, football gets my entire Sunday (the whole day) and my Monday night. That cramps not only my style for five months out of the year, but also that of those close to me.
I know, I know—poor me. Just stay with me for a second.
My point is that what makes the NFL great is that most of the games are happening on a single day, which allows those of us who love the game to chalk up our Sundays as time sucked away by football. If we see an erosion of that, if the league decides to take a cue from the NCAA's Mid-American Conference and pepper its schedule with more weekday games, where does that leave football fandom as a whole?
Baseball fans can follow their teams for seven days a week. I'm not saying that football fans can't, but that, as things stand now, we don't have to. And that's awesome. I love football in large part because I don't have to love it all the time. We can be totally oblivious for six days, flip on a network pregame show 30 minutes before kickoff and be all caught up.
With more weeknight games on the schedule, that could change.
Yes, we already have Monday night football. Sorry, that's Monday Night Football. And ESPN seems to do everything humanly possible to keep you from watching it, whether it's the gradual increase of cable subscriber fees or giving Jon Gruden more time to compliment every mediocre player in front of him. But we watch anyway, and we can't get enough.
Conversely, everyone behind a mic at NFLN seems to know well enough to stay out of the game's way (to say nothing of their relationships with cable companies, which would be another piece entirely). But when the league finally decides to ship that Thursday night baby off to another daddy, all bets are off.
Will you watch this Thursday night's game?
I'm not complaining about the idea of more football. I'm more concerned about the fact that the NFL appears willing to do anything to make more football happen. We've been over Roger Goodell's crusade for an 18-game regular season—an enterprise that was tabled just long enough to throw the book at Jonathan Vilma. We've been shouting that idea down for years now. We should be doing the same here.
Usually, more of something we like is awesome. But I'm not sold that more football will qualify. Just like there's a difference between lunch at McDonald's and too much lunch at McDonald's, at some point, we have to back away from the trough and politely mutter, "I'm full."
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