Why pay hundreds of millions of dollars for Thursday Night Football, of all things? There’s no denying, the schedule’s not as good, and because of the lack of lead time heading up to the game, the product is not as good. Consider that CBS also had the deck stacked against it, with a game airing during a week in which the NFL may have been viewed less favorably than it has at any point in its history. Oh, and the game was kind of awful and boring in general.
They still tuned in, and in huge numbers. The season-opener for CBS and NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football — featuring the controversy-laden Baltimore Ravens and their rival Pittsburgh Steelers — drew a 13.7/23 overnight household rating and share. In primetime alone, the game drew a 12.9 overnight, making it CBS’s highest-rated Thursday since May of 2006. That is why you pay hundreds of millions for one season of Thursday Night Football.
A broadcast network boost was huge for the franchise. Steelers/Ravens topped the previous NFL Network high for Thursday nights (last year’s Chiefs-Eagles game: 6.9) by 99 percent. To give you an idea of what a broadcast network can draw on Thursday nights, last week’s Packers/Seahawks season opener on NBC drew a 16.8 overnight rating, so the number is down from the first game of the year.
Baltimore led all markets with a massive 42.9/62 overnight rating and share. Pittsburgh drew a 37.1/55.
Now, will next week’s Tampa Bay/Atlanta game be able to match that? For a bunch of reasons, probably not. But CBS has quickly shown that NFL football on broadcast networks on a Thursday will work. If games like Bucs/Falcons can come even close to last night’s rating, the NFL might send rights fees up for future years of Thursday night games even higher.