Including itself. The NFL created its own television network seven years ago and, starting on Thanksgiving night 2006, it began broadcasting games on Thursday nights. It got into its own market, giving its network instant credibility by programing live NFL games.
Not all cable systems have NFL Network, which has been a problem/pain for many fans. But the network continues to grow and expand and, pretty soon, it will become must-have programming for most, if not all, cable and satellite providers.
Friday at the Super Bowl venue in Indianapolis, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said NFL Network will be getting an even larger, more comprehensive role in the week-to-week scheduling of league games to the adoring masses.
Not only did Goodell announce that NFL Network's Thursday night schedule would increase from eight to 13 weeks, starting in Week 2 and running through Week 15 of the 2012 regular season, but added that even teams like the Vikings would be guaranteed a game on Thursday night.
While no teams have yet been announced (the schedule doesn't come out until late March or early April), the NFL pulled off another genius marketing move to justify the increase in games to be broadcast exclusively on the league's in-house network.
Major League Baseball consistently finds ways to trip over itself in most major decisions. Bud Selig and the other occupants of his clown car have been rocked by doping scandals, canceled a World Series due to labor strife, called off its All-Star Game because it went too long and then decided to make up for that gaffe by determining home-field advantage for the World Series with the winner of an exhibition game with no significance in the standings. If Bud Selig found a sign that said "Wet Paint" you can almost bet he'd be in a bathroom five minutes later trying to get the paint off his hand.
The NFL, however, has found ways to expand and improve its product. In his announcement, Goodell said that the expansion of the Thursday night schedule would include every team.
"This will result in every team appearing in Thursday football games and every team having a prime-time appearance throughout the season," Goodell said.
The NFL season starts off with a Thursday night game on NBC that marks the start of the next season. Two years ago, the Vikings met the Saints in a rematch of the NFC Championship Game. In 2011, the Saints went to Green Bay to face the Packers. Potential candidates for this year's Kickoff Game would be the Packers-Giants, Giants-49ers, Patriots-Ravens and Ravens-Steelers. Even a rematch of the Saints and Packers would be a welcome high-octane start to the season. Those two teams won't be part of the Thursday night NFL Network package.
Neither will the Lions or Cowboys. Detroit and Dallas historically host games on Thanksgiving Day, so both of them, as well as their two opponents will be eliminated from Thursday night consideration. That leaves 26 teams and 13 weeks.
One of the main complaints of fans of teams with awful records is that their team is rarely, if ever, in big time prime-time games. Given the expansion of the NFL Network schedule, they have maintained a competitive advantage by requiring every team to play one game on a Thursday, creating a short week of healing and preparation and a longer rest period following the game.
Due to the nature of the number of teams that need to be incorporated into the Thursday night schedule, expect to see a lot of division games. But, while seeing Arizona and St. Louis may not be a top priority nationwide, division games are usually closer than most because of the familiarity of the teams and the rivalries that build over time.
The NFL found a way to both expand its product and not create an inherent disadvantage to any of its 32 teams. They will all play one game on Thursday. How they handle the week after, where one team will have 10 days rest compared to just six for the other team, is still up for debate. No system is perfect, but the NFL continues to expand its product and do it the right way, leaving MLB, the NBA and the NHL drowning in its wake.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.