Let’s start with what we know about the NFL’s new Thursday night television deal, announced Wednesday:
Eight early-season Thursday night games will be simulcast on CBS and the NFL Network beginning Sept. 11. Eight other games will air exclusively on the NFL Network. A Saturday doubleheader Dec. 20 is also part of the package, though the network has not been revealed.
CBS Sports will produce all of the games, with its longtime No. 1 broadcast team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms handling the call. But the studio programs will feature NFL Network personalities, so you’ll get your insincere laughter from the likes of Warren Sapp and Michael Irvin rather than Boomer Esiason and Shannon Sharpe.
The agreement is for just one year, with an NFL option for a second year. The New York Times reported the deal is worth at least $250 million. So presumed bidding bridesmaids NBC, Fox Sports, and Turner could get another shot at carrying the package as soon as the 2015 season.
Got all that? It boils down to this: CBS is paying an enormous amount of money for a sure-fire ratings jackpot on Thursday nights — 34 of the 35 most-watched shows this fall were NFL games. And the NFL is getting a larger audience — CBS is in approximately 40 million more homes than the NFL Network — and higher-quality production on a night on which it is still trying to make its mark compared with its Sunday and Monday prime-time dominance.
Now here’s what we’re waiting to know, at least around here: how is this going to affect the Patriots?
The early calculations and considerations suggest not much. Sure, it is possible NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s desire to see the Thursday night package thrive may lead to the scheduling of more marquee teams and rivalries. The Patriots have appeared on Thursday night football just three times since it debuted in 2006 — twice against the Jets (in Week 2 this past season and Week 11 in 2008) as well as during the 2007 regular-season finale when they beat the Giants to go 16-0. (The Giants game at the end of ‘07 was actually played on a Saturday, but was branded Thursday Night Football and counts on the Patriots’ Thursday record. )
But teams typically loathe playing on Thursdays for physical and logistical reasons, which may be one reason so many Thursday night games have been clunkers, like this year’s Browns-Bills matchup in Week 5, or the Week 14 Stupor Bowl between the Texans and Jaguars. It’s hard to imagine the Patriots, given owner Robert Kraft’s clout as the broadcast committee chairman, will appear on Thursday night more than once.
This could also mean Patriots fans see and hear less of Nantz and Simms, who have called more than 50 Patriots games together since 2000, including five this past season. According to Jen Sabatelle, CBS Sports’s vice president of communications, it’s yet to be determined how many Sunday games Simms and Nantz will do this year, but they will have some weekends off.
“They won’t do a game every Sunday, but they will still be a prominent part of our Sunday game coverage,’’ she said.
If Nantz and Simms’s Thursday commitment prevents them from coming to Foxborough on Sundays as often as they have the last 14 years, which CBS broadcast team will fill in the gap? The No. 2 team of Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf called five Patriots games in 2013, but Dierdorf packed up his non sequiturs and headed into retirement after the season.
CBS doesn’t typically announce its broadcaster pairings until late August, but if this means that Patriots fans get more of the unsung Ian Eagle-Dan Fouts tandem, then consider that an a guaranteed indirect benefit of this new Thursday deal.
Jerry Remy will return to the NESN booth March 2 when the Red Sox take on the Orioles at 1 p.m., the network’s first of 12 spring training game telecasts. Remy took a leave of absence for the remainder of the 2013 season in mid-August after his son, Jared, was arrested and charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel. Remy will appear on NESN programming before the March 2 game . . . The Red Sox will face the American League East rival Tampa Bay Rays in four of NESN’s 12 spring training telecasts. One Yankees-Red Sox game will be broadcast, March 20 from Fort Myers at 7 p.m. . . . The network’s “Red Sox Live from Fort Myers” hour-long daily program premieres Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. It will air at the same time for each of the 10 subsequent days . . . With Jenny Dell relegated to studio purgatory for the time being, NESN’s search for a Red Sox in-game reporter continues. NESN recently hired Sarah Davis from Rogers Sportsnet in Toronto, as a reporter, anchor, and host. She will join the network in mid-February, but is not the Red Sox reporter. One in-house solution that would make some sense: Move Bruins reporter Jamie Erdahl over to the Red Sox, where she excelled filling in for Dell for 25 or so games last season, then use Davis or Leah Hextall on the Bruins. It’s probably too much to ask for Naoko Funayama to return, right?
No plan in place
ESPN hasn’t formulated its immediate plans for its “Sunday Night Baseball” broadcast team in the wake of analyst Curt Schilling’s announcement Wednesday that he is taking leave to be treated for an undisclosed form of cancer. “We just learned of Curt’s diagnosis and we will determine our next steps soon,’’ said an ESPN spokesman. Schilling, who has been an ESPN studio analyst since 2010, was set to debut with former Phillies teammate John Kruk and play-by-play stalwart Dan Shulman in the high-profile three-man booth this season . . . Comcast SportsNet New England’s Trenni Kusnierek is in Sochi, where she is handling the reporter duties for NBC’s curling coverage (the majority of it airs on CNBC). The assignment is an indication that Kusnierek is held in high regard. by CSNNE’s corporate bosses at NBC and CSNNETwo years ago, CSNNE’s Carolyn Manno was chosen as a sports desk reporter for the London Summer Games. She was hired by NBC shortly thereafter and is working in Sochi as the freestyle skiing reporter . . . We’re five days beyond Super Bowl XLVIII. Anyone else still waiting for Fox analyst Troy Aikman to acknowledge that Peyton Manning didn’t play well?