Should Thursday Night Football soon be sacked for a loss?

The Baltimore Ravens defeated the St. Louis Rams 16-13 after Justin Tucker kicked a field goal as time expired on November 22, 2015 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD. Photo by Shawn Hubbard
**FILE** New England Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest (55) sacks Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich during the fourth quarter of their wild card playoff football game in Foxborough, Mass., in this Jan. 7, 2006 photo. The Patriots announced Thursday, March 9, 2006, they have released McGinest in a salary cap move, ending a 12-year relationship with the NFL's all-time postseason sack leader. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File)
(Willie McGinest photo courtesy New England Patriots)

By Ron Borges

Talk of Fame Network

When the NFL loses John Madden, it’s over. And on the subject of Thursday Night Football, they’ve lost John Madden.

Which means it’s over. Or certainly soon should be.

The NFL’s tumbling television ratings continue to drift downward, and the excuse that Donald J. Trump’s electioneering hi-jinx were just too entertaining for your average football is no longer applicable, even though one of the league’s most powerful owners, Robert Kraft, during a chat this week with the Talk of Fame Network cited it as partly responsible.

A report this week said concern over the slipping ratings may lead to the league canning Thursday Night Football, even though that would cost owners $450 million in revenue from NBC and CBS. But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones quickly took to the Dallas airwaves claiming, “Thursday Night Football is here for good.’’

Let’s hope not, for the good of football.

“It’s a great opportunity for the NFL to basically be a part of what we want to be,’’ Jones said referring to pro football in prime time. “That is, we appreciate the interest that is in our game. I was reading in the Wall Street Journal about how your television ratings are down, but the number-one product in all of television is the NFL. And it’s across the board.

“So all ratings are down, and the NFL is (still) the strongest programming out there. I don’t anticipate anything happening to Thursday Night Football.”

What Jones was saying was something Kraft reiterated to the Talk of Fame Network, which is that pro football remains the leader in its time slots. But Kraft added a cautionary note that illustrates why he has become both the leader of the game’s winningest organization and a league power broker. He has foresight as well as hindsight.

“We’re very sensitive to (over) saturation,’’ Kraft admitted. “We’re still beating all other programming (in their timeslots Sunday, Monday night and Thursday night), but it is something we have to look at.’’

That is obvious both by the continuing ratings slide and the comments of Madden, who dedicated his life to pro football and has done as much to promote it as anyone in the sport with the Madden game and his years as a color analyst after retiring from coaching.

So it should carry some weight when he spoke as he did this week during a podcast in the Bay Area.

“Something has to be done about Thursday Night Football,” Madden said. “It just doesn’t work. It’s not only a fan thing, it’s a team thing. It’s a safety thing. It’s a competitive thing. It doesn’t work. I know about money, and I know about business. Maybe you have to tweak stuff a little more.’’

Part of Madden’s problem with it is that he feels it’s unfair to players and teams. As players grow older, he believes, it takes longer to recover, and the short turnaround between a Sunday game and playing on Thursday adversely affects performance, producing sloppy or uninspired play that is not prime-time entertainment. The fear is that the poor quality and match-ups in many of those games have become a drag on the rest of the week’s programing.

ESPN’s “Monday Night Football’’ ratings have been down all year and continued to slide even two weeks after the election. Despite paying $1.9 billion a year for the broadcast rights, ESPN has seen ratings drop 17 percent this year. They are not alone.

NBC’s Sunday Night Football is down 14 percent for the year. Even last Sunday’s compelling match-up between the defending Super Bowl-champion Denver Broncos and AFC West rival Kansas City Chiefs was down 37 percent from the Sunday night game a year ago.

To be fair, that 2015 match-up was between the Broncos and the then-defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, and it landed an outlier of a Sunday-night rating of 16.2. But if you go back two years, to a Week 12 game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, it was still a 16 percent drop.

A Wall Street Journal story this week said that owners already decided to can the 9:30 a.m. ET start for games broadcast from England next year, pushing them back to a 1 p.m. kickoff even though it means losing the prime time slot in Asia, a market the league is desperate to penetrate. That will reduce the broadcast hours of live Sunday games by three hours, a concession to the fear that overexposure of Sunday games yields deleterious ratings.

Will Thursday night be the next time slot to go dark? Jones says no. Kraft says we’ll see, which was really a qualified ‘’maybe so.’’

But it was John Madden who reflected the reality, and it is this: America loves pro footbal,l but as the poet Kahlil Gibran once cautioned about love in “The Prophet”: “But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.’’

In other words, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. That’s a lesson often learned the hard way, as the NFL seems to be doing this season.

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  1. Scott Dochterman
    December 1, 2016

    Good stuff but you know the bean counters are looking for a quid quo pro on this. Here’s what I would suggest:

    -Cut the preseason by two games but still keep the HOF game.
    – Add one more regular-season game and play the 17th game at neutral sites. Go ahead and put 8 in London, 3-4 in Mexico, maybe Berlin or open the season in China. Maybe have a drawing for neutral-site opponents.
    – Add a second bye. Any team playing on Thursday gets a bye the previous week. If there are any games in Australia/China/Japan, it’s the season opener at least 10 days before the next game.
    – No Thursday games before Thanksgiving. Go ahead and sprinkle in a few more late-week games around Christmas.
    -Play the Super Bowl on the Sunday before President’s Day.
    – Overall, you give the owners more inventory, two extra weeks of programming and an option to grow the game globally without moving a franchise off the continent. The players get fewer midweek games, two fewer exhibition games and more recovery time. You get less weekly saturation early in the season when the weather is good and college football is full bloom.

    • December 1, 2016

      Interesting ideas. Like the no Thursday games before Thanksgiving. How about none AFTER Thanksgiving either?

      • Scott Dochterman
        December 2, 2016

        Sure, whack them all except the Thanksgiving Day games. Ten years ago I practically knew the entire primetime package. Now I don’t know have any idea of who’s playing that night. Once fans start figuring out they can live without the product, it’s next-to-impossible to get them all back.

  2. Rasputin
    December 5, 2016

    Still no mention of a real major cause…backlash against the Kaepernick inspired anti-American protests. That’s what regular Americans most cite in polling as the reason for people tuning out. But sure, keep your head in the sand. Some other factors may play a role too, but the technology angle only goes so far since NFL ratings have been increasing in recent years even as ratings fell for other types of programming. People still like to watch live football games on big tvs, often gathered with other people.
    The salient fact is that college football ratings remained strong this year despite a lackluster season in on the field quality at that level. By refusing to stop the anthem protests the way the NFL races to crack down on the slightest politically incorrect commentary that offends liberal pressure groups, the league has branded itself as anti-American. At least the “election” excuse leftist media outlets and the NFL tried to peddle has been debunked.

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