The NFL has no intention of shifting to a pay-television only model in the future, according to Brian Rolapp, chief operating officer of the American football league’s NFL Media division.
Rolapp is next month set to succeed Steve Bornstein as the top media executive at the NFL and president of league-owned pay-television channel NFL Network.
Concerning the league’s future broadcast strategy, Rolapp told Sports Illustrated’s TheMMQB.com website: “We have built a very good thing here by making NFL football available to as many people as possible. I don’t see free television going away.”
Rolapp said his highest priority at present is ensuring the success of the NFL’s new Thursday night rights package.
In February, the CBS network was awarded the rights for the new package of games. The agreement will run for the 2014-15 season with the NFL having an option to extend the deal by one further year.
The package includes live coverage of a total of 16 regular-season games, including 14 on Thursday evenings and two on Saturday evenings. The first eight “early-season” games will also be simulcast on NFL Network.
Rolapp said: “This partnership with CBS is important. Thursday night football started as eight games on NFL Network, then it went to 13, and we really wanted to make sure that we thought this extra prime-time night of games could work competitively, could work from a schedule standpoint, could work from a fan’s standpoint, and we’re convinced it does. Some say, ‘Well, you can’t simulcast a game on two networks, that’s never been done before.’ Or, ‘You can’t do a short-term deal, that’s never been done before.’ We thought, ‘Well, no, we could.’ This is about getting more fans exposed to Thursday Night Football.”
Questioned on whether the simulcast approach will hurt NFL Network’s ratings, Rolapp added: “If it’s one person, I don’t want them to get lost because they can’t find it. If he’s conditioned to go to NFL Network, that’s fine. It might be one. It might be a million. You have two voices.”