When pro sports prognosticators look back on the 2017 season, it’s hard to say they’ll call it a successful one for the NFL. With falling revenues, boycotts, fan division, player protests and anger over the imminent contract extension of embattled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the league is desperately trying to energize ratings and reignite a spark with its fans.
So, it’s not surprising that they’ve now turned to one of the most troubled properties at present: Thursday Night Football. Conceived and packaged as a mid-week fix of football between Monday night and Sunday morning, TNF has been plagued from the start by low ratings, relatively poor games, and the polarizing “color rush” uniforms. When the special TNF unis were announced, fans reacted immediately and viscerally. Most people hated them. There were parodies, like the one where ketchup and mustard battled it out on the gridiron. While some liked the uniforms, the majority lampooned them unmercifully. Fans were even less kind about the poor showing on the field.
But the NFL kept pushing promoting the Thursday night broadcasts. The game continued to be a testing ground for new tech and new gimmicks. The latest, which debuted during the game between the Steelers and Titans, was the SkyCam, which fans immediately dubbed “the Madden Cam,” which refers to the SkyCam picture’s uncanny resemblance to most football video games. The SkyCam has been used in games for a while now, but not to broadcast the whole game. The camera was called into service earlier this year when a Patriots-Falcons game was so foggy, the regular broadcast cameras couldn’t keep up.
Producers at that game made the call to switch the to SkyCam, and fans responded generally very positively. That got the NFL minds churning. They needed more of that happy fan response this season. What could they do? How about trying SkyCam for an entire game? Not a bad idea, someone decided. But they certainly wouldn’t try that on Sunday or Monday.
So Thursday night it is. One of the bigger benefits of the SkyCam is that the angle allows viewers to see nearly all 22 players on the field at any given time, instead of focusing on the main group nearest the line of scrimmage, or to receivers and defenders out on the perimeter and back again.
So, while it’s a bit of risk for the NFL, it’s not a huge risk, and it could have a huge payoff in positive buzz from the fans, which is something the NFL has been missing this season.