It's no secret the NFL kills it in the television ratings department. But the league took at least a little heat when it started placing prime-time games on its own network six years ago. After all, NFL Network's cable reach was tiny at that point, at least compared to ESPN and the three networks that aired NFL football the rest of the time.
For years, the numbers for "Thursday Night Football" couldn't skyrocket because huge numbers of fans simply couldn't gain access to the games.
But instead of responding to angry fans and critics by shying away from broadcasting key games to smaller audiences, the NFL strong-armed giant providers by adopting a larger-than-ever schedule for 2012. Essentially, TNF has become a weekly fixture now. That helped the league win two separate staring contests with Cablevision and Time Warner Cable earlier this year.
And with major markets now able to get in on the action as a result of deals with those mega-providers, it's no surprise that NFLN saw an eight-percent increase in viewership in 2012.
Details come from an NFLN press release, via Fang's Bites:
"Thursday Night Football finished with a record-high per game average audience of 7.3 million viewers in 2012, marking the fourth consecutive year that Thursday Night Football has set an all-time high viewership mark for NFL Network.
For the season, Thursday Night Football on NFL Network averaged a 4.6 US HH rating (including OTA’s), another record for the network. The 4.6 US HH rating represents an 8% increase from the 2011 season. Each week of the 2012 Thursday Night Football schedule, NFL Network’s game telecast was the day’s most-watched program on cable television."
This is just another indication that leagues will likely continue to self-produce and broadcast their own games at a growing rate, which of course makes sense from almost every standpoint. MLB Network already independently produces three games per week and NBA TV started to produce their own games during last year's playoffs, rather than simulcasting games produced by local rights holders.
Look for that to become more common going forward, which will only give pro sports leagues more leverage with thirsty networks.