Thursday Night Football is the brand name used by NFL Network for its schedule of live regular season telecasts of National Football League games on Thursday nights.
The eight-game package debuted on November 23, 2006, with the Kansas City Chiefs handing the visiting Denver Broncos a 19–10 Thanksgiving defeat. Most games kick off at 8:20 p.m. Eastern Time (ET). Five games aired on Thursday nights, the other three on Saturday nights. Each game would be called either Thursday Night Football or Saturday Night Football, depending on the night on which it appears; the package as a whole was known as the Run to the Playoffs. This format carried over to the 2007 season.
However, starting in 2008, NFL Network eliminated all but one of the Saturday night games as well as starting their Thursday night package three weeks earlier. This was to accommodate the earlier schedule and the league’s antitrust exemption, which prohibits Saturday games during college football season. In the 2009 season, all references to Saturday Night Football were dropped and any games not played on Thursday were referred to as Thursday Night Football Special Editions. (The network has aired only one game thus far on a night other than Thursday or Saturday, a 2009 contest between the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans played on Friday, December 25 to avoid conflicting with Christmas Eve observances the previous evening.)
As of December 23, 2011, the Thursday Night Football franchise had aired a total of 61 games.
The game package is highly controversial mainly due to the relative unavailability of NFL Network compared to other cable stations such as ESPN or over-the-air affiliates. In most markets NFL Network is only available through premium tier packages, with war of words frequently being exchanged between the NFL and cable companies to get the channel moved to basic cable. Time Warner Cable, the second largest cable-company in the U.S., did not carry the channel at all until the 2012 season, when an agreement was finally reached to carry NFL Network for the first time. Due to anti-trust regulations the NFL is contractually obligated to offer the broadcast to a local over-the-air station. Therefore the away team and (assuming a sellout) the home team markets will see the game regardless of cable availability of the channel. This stipulation also applies to ESPN broadcasts of Monday Night Football. The Thursday Night Football package expanded to 13 games beginning in the 2012 season and will continue airing on NFL Network.