We’ve addressed in a couple of items that news that the NFL is pondering the possibility of adding a flex option to Monday Night Football. Regardless of whether the league can make it work logistically, there’s an important message that screams out from the Sports Business Journal report.
The NFL wouldn’t be toying with the possibility of swapping out late-season MNF games made irrelevant by injuries or poor team performances if the NFL wasn’t serious about taking Monday Night Football back to a three-letter network.
In 2006, Monday Night Football didn’t move from ABC to ESPN. It moved from ABC to NBC, with Sunday Night Football becoming the new Monday Night Football — and with the cable-only Monday Night Football becoming what Sunday Night Football had been on ESPN.
Cable packages are driven not by the quality of the games but by the fees that can be justified for the network that carries them. Also, it’s not as important to max out the audience, because the fact that the games aren’t televised on a traditional broadcast network means that the audiences will necessarily be smaller.
Pondering a flex option for Monday Night Football suggests that the league wants to have a way to pump up the quality of late-season games and, in turn, late-season ratings. While this could mean something like an ESPN/ABC simulcast for the package that expires a year before all other TV deals, the bigger takeaway is that the NFL is now considering dominating not one (Sunday) or two (Sunday and Thursday) but three nights per week via mega-audience games on three-letter networks, which despite the dramatic changes to the landscape of American television can still bring together a much bigger audience than any cable network can finagle.