NBC Takes Thanksgiving Night Game… Thanks To Tim Tebow?

Today, the National Football League released a statement announcing an extension of the current television contract with CBS, FOX and NBC, as well as ESPN, which is scheduled to expire in 2013.

Note that exactly one week ago, the announcement that the NFL made regarding broadcasting revolved around a single football game – one that, and I hope Tim Tebow forgives my choice of words here, CBS fought like hell to keep from NBC’s Sunday night showcase.

The skeptic in me wonders if Tebow – namely, NBC’s losing out on televising Tebow and his Denver Broncos bs. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots this week – stirred up this television extension a little bit sooner rather than later.

Here’s why I draw up that theory: According to the official press release on NFLCommunications.com, NBC, in addition to delivering the “Sunday Night Football” franchise which – with the exception of this week, anyway – benefits from flexible scheduling, as well as the season-opening Thursday night “kickoff” game – usually involving the team that had won the Super Bowl the previous season – “will add the annual Thanksgiving primetime game starting in 2012.”

Whoa. Who didn’t see that coming? The Thanksgiving night game was one of the many perks that the NFL Network relied on in obtaining clearance on cable systems.

And maybe it’s not so much Tebow that warranted this move, but perhaps a Harbaugh or two.

The Ravens/49ers Turkey Day – or, if you prefer, Turkey Night – matchup was the most-watched program in the history of the eight-year-old NFL Network, which had started airing regular season NFL games – including the Thanksgiving night contest – in 2006, the same year that NBC acquired the “Sunday Night Football” franchise from ESPN (and likewise, ESPN adopting the “Monday Night Football” brand from corporate cousin ABC, where it had run for 36 seasons.

Consider the most recent Thanksgiving evening game, which saw the Ravens upend the 49ers 16-6 in Baltimore, broke the previous record for most-watched program on NFL Network – the Thanksgiving night game from the year before, Bengals at Jets.

With such a pattern emerging, it only made sense for the NFL to move the Thanksgiving night game to NBC. But the timing of this happening exactly one week after NBC was denied “Tebow Time” in primetime is just so uncanny – much like the play of Tebow himself. Usually in the fourth quarter or so.

Meanwhile, don’t cry for NFL Network – the release from the NFL also states that the extension of the agreement will “also enable the NFL to expand its Thursday night package of games on NFL Network beginning next year.” That number of extra games has not been determined, per the release. I would venture to guess that the Thursday night window for NFL Network would begin right around late October, just as the November sweeps period starts – but that’s just speculation on my part.

And here’s one more nugget of speculation for you: The first Thanksgiving night game on NBC will feature Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. They were actually involved in two of the six Thanksgiving night games played: the initial one in 2006 in Kansas City, and in 2009, hosting the New York Giants (you might recall former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels got a little too profanically excited in that one).

Don’t be surprised if the Broncos return to Turkey Night after another three-year wait. And don’t be surprised if NBC schedules the Broncos to play on the 2012 Thursday night season opener – trust me, after losing out to CBS for this week’s regular season game, the Peacock is going to milk Tebowmania for all it’s worth.

But most importantly, don’t be surprised if NBC shatters NFL Network’s Thanksgiving night ratings records starting next year, which should be easy to do – Tebow or no.

The big question will be whether or not it’ll actually get a higher rating than the daytime games that would have been played on CBS and FOX.

NBC hopes that the tryptophan will have worn off by then.

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