Much of the talk about Thursday Night Football heading to Fox was about the supposedly improved schedule, which Fox execs pushed for and then talked up this spring as part of the $3 billion/five-year deal they struck (which sparked investor worries). Some of the biggest complaints about TNF (and biggest reasons given for low ratings) in previous years were about oversaturation with less-than-stellar games, but Fox is trying to change that impression.
This week (Week 4 of the NFL season) sees the first TNF games on Fox (Week 1 was the kickoff game on NBC, Weeks 2 and 3 were NFL Network only), and that’s led to Fox and ad firm Wieden+Kennedy New York rolling out ads promoting their games. And the ads’ focus is definitely on talking up the Thursday Night Football schedule.
The ad campaign is titled “Now It’s A Game,” and it’s comprised of an introductory “Anthem” spot covering the general idea of an improved schedule , then six specific ads promoting individual games. These spots were directed by Craig Gillespie (known for I, Tonya, The Finest Hours, Million Dollar Arm, Lars and the Real Girl and more), and they combine everyday fans (including a mechanic, a dentist and a student) talking up matchups at work with appearances from Fox’s NFL personalities and NFL players. Here’s the overarching “Anthem” spot, featuring everyone from Joe Buck and Troy Aikman (seen above) to Ndamukong Suh and Jared Goff, and concluding with a “Man, these Thursday night games are good!”
Here’s the Week 4 one, with a dentist telling his patient about Vikings-Rams:
And here’s Week 5, with a mechanic talking up Patriots-Colts:
In Fox’s release, Gillespie and Fox executive Robert Gottlieb both talked up the idea of marquee games and energy:
“Football is in FOX Sports’ DNA, and the premiere of Thursday Night Football on our network is a big moment in our brand’s evolution,” said Robert Gottlieb, Executive Vice President and Head of Marketing, FOX Sports. “This is year one of the broadcast on FOX, and we wanted a campaign that was distinctive to our voice, but also true to what we plan to deliver to NFL fans as the network home of this franchise.”
The campaign shows every-day fanatics – such as a dentist, a mechanic and a young student — talking up Thursday Night Football on FOX at work and on-the-go. It also features NFL stars Jared Goff, Ndamukong Suh and Saquon Barkley along with FOX Sports’ broadcaster Joe Buck and Pro Football Hall of Fame colleagues Troy Aikman, Michael Strahan, Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long. An unbridled enthusiasm for the new slate of games is shared by them all, in conversation with peers, passengers and patients – a common theme leading to the realizations that “This is different!” and “Man, these games are good!”
“The spots’ fast-paced editing reflects the hard-hitting energy of Thursday Night Football,” said Gillespie. “We wanted to do something that felt creatively unique and different, but is also authentic to the voices of people who love the game — fans, players and broadcasters — in their everyday environments.”
So, there’s definitely a big focus on how “good” this schedule is. But how good is it really? Let’s look at the current records of teams in the six matchups emphasized in these ads; the 1-1-1 Vikings versus the 3-0 Rams, the 1-2 Patriots versus the 1-2 Colts, the 2-1 Eagles versus the 1-2 Giants, the 2-1 Panthers versus the 1-1-1 Steelers, the 1-1-1 Packers versus the 1-2 Seahawks, and the 2-1 Saints versus the 1-2 Cowboys. That gives a total record of 17-16-3, which is certainly better than some possibilities, but doesn’t necessarily scream marquee, especially when it gets to games where both teams have won less than half of their games (Patriots-Colts and Packers-Seahawks). Of course, it’s still early in the season, and there’s plenty of belief that the likes of the Patriots will turn this around, but some of these other teams might not.
Beyond current records (not predictable when this schedule was assembled, of course), is this really better than the games on network TV (CBS and NBC) last year? That’s debatable. All of the teams here except the Vikings appeared on TNF last year (the Rams appeared on a game that was NFL Network only, but they also weren’t expected to be good). Yes, there probably are some matchups with more history and more ratings potential (Patriots-Colts seems better than last year’s Patriots-Bucs, and the NFC East rivalry between the Eagles and Giants is perhaps better than Eagles-Panthers), but last year had some seemingly-solid divisional games too (Bears-Packers, Cowboys-Redskins, Saints-Falcons).
There’s a case this year’s TNF schedule for the Fox games is maybe a bit better (especially if you go from the standpoint of how these teams have done historically rather than how they’re doing this year), but it’s not a clearly lopsided victory. However, that may be more of an issue with the current NFL than with this particular schedule. The league as a whole is facing some challenges, with quarterback play in particular, and at the moment, it’s hard to find a big list of teams that are actually good and actually worth tuning in for. And while the TNF schedule may not all scream “must see,” it’s certainly not terrible when it comes to the games on Fox. In fact, our April analysis of all the Thursday games (Fox, NFLN and the kickoff game on NBC) versus the Monday Night Football schedule wound up picking the Thursday schedule head-to-head (by a slim margin, though).
Overall, this still seems like a smart advertising play from Fox and W+K. Rather than try to sell anything gimmicky about the broadcasts (where the announcing team’s the same as for their big Sunday games, except with extra sideline reporter Kristina Pink), they’re emphasizing the actual football, and time and time again, it’s been proven that that’s the biggest thing people tune in for. And hyping up these particular teams and matchups may work, given the teams’ past success; “Patriots-Colts” sounds a whole lot better than “A battle of 1-2 teams.”
Also, the commercial spots are pretty clever. They suggest that if these everyday people are so fired up about these games, they’re matchups worth watching. And maybe they’ll pay off and get some more people to watch. At the very least, this is infinitely better than last year’s slogan of “Thursday Night Football: When It’s On, It’s On.”