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'Thursday Night Football' rights in 2016 could be split among as many as 3 TV networks

The NFL is opening up bidding wars between CBS, Fox and NBC for TV rights, and Amazon, Apple, Google and Yahoo! for digital rights to Thursday games.

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is shopping the rights to Thursday Night Football and could split them up between two, or even three, television networks in 2016, according to John Ourand of SportsBusinessDaily.

What is known for sure is that at least eight of the Thursday games have to be televised exclusively on NFL Network. As long as eight regular season games are televised exclusively on NFL Network, it is able to keep its affiliate rate for distributors above $1 and avoid a significant drop-off.

But with the possibility of 17 Thursday Night Football games in 2016, that leaves nine games to be purchased by television networks and a looming bidding war between CBS, NBC and Fox.

According to Ourand, the NFL is considering splitting its remaining nine television broadcasts up into three-game deals each for CBS, NBC and Fox. Ourand said cable networks like ESPN and Turner Sports have bowed out due to the smaller packages and one-year deals that the NFL is pursuing, but according to Ronald Grover of TheStreet, that hasn't stopped Fox from aggressively pursuing the rights and attempting to outbid CBS for the rights.

While the NFL has been criticized for the quality of Thursday games by fans and players alike, the ratings for the league suggest things are going just fine for the league. According to Sports Illustrated, ratings again reached an all-time high in 2015, with Fox, CBS, NBC all reporting a year-over-year increase in average per-game NFL viewership.

The NFL has also been experimenting with digital broadcasts and will sell its full slate of Thursday games separately from the TV rights, per Ourand. Sites like Amazon, Apple, Google and Yahoo! could all become broadcast partners with the NFL during the 2016 season after the NFL contacted each for bids. In 2015, the NFL sold exclusive streaming rights of a London game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills to Yahoo!.

Decisions for broadcast partners are expected to be made by the NFL before Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7, according to TheStreet.