NFL Official Says Thursday Football Games Can Match Sunday Night

The NFL could be as big on Thursday night TV as it is on Sunday or Monday evenings, said Brian Rolapp, one of the National Football League executives negotiating the sale of broadcast rights for midweek games.

Rolapp, executive vice president of media, is helping to field offers for eight games a season that would also be simulcast on the league’s NFL Network, where Thursday games have run since 2006. The price may reach $100 million a game, Michael Morris, an analyst with Guggenheim Securities in New York, said in an interview.

Selling rights to broadcast networks would expand the audience for Thursday games while bringing the league about $800 million in added TV revenue. Showing them on the NFL Network at the same time doesn’t hurt their value, Rolapp said.

The simulcast “is not a big deal,” Rolapp said yesterday in an interview. Thursday games “could be as big as Monday night or Sunday night,” he said.

Potential buyers include the owners of the four major broadcast networks: CBS Corp., 21st Century Fox Inc., Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal and Walt Disney Co., which owns ESPN and would air the games on its ABC network. Morris estimates the value of the Thursday games based on the $1.6 billion to $1.7 billion he says ESPN will pay in 2014 for 17 “Monday Night Football” games.

Sunday Ratings

“It will probably be a regular broadcaster, but I would like to see the eggs broken and go to someone completely new, technologically speaking,” said Andy Dolich, former chief operating officer of the San Francisco 49ers. He expects “a multibillion-dollar deal.”

“Monday Night Football” is regularly the most-watched program on cable, averaging 13.7 million viewers, ESPN said last month, citing Nielsen data. “Sunday Night Football” on NBC is the second most-watched show on television, averaging 21.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen ratings.

The NFL Network typically attracts 8 million to its Thursday games. The network reaches about 72 million pay-TV homes, according to Rolapp. Broadcast television is available in 116 million homes, according to Nielsen. ESPN is in about 100 million households, Disney says.

The NFL, which holds the Super Bowl championship game on Feb. 2 in New Jersey, started with eight Thursday night games on the NFL Network. In 2011, the league added five more.