Richard Deitsch has used his latest “Media Circus” column over at The Athletic to prepare football fans for the upcoming NFL season. The two part column was posted yesterday and today.
One of the most interesting pieces of information Deitsch revealed was how the NFL’s four broadcast partners prioritized individual teams and games. He asked the network programmers what they specifically told the NFL that they wanted. Some were more forthcoming than others.
CBS: CBS Sports president Sean McManus passed along the following games that his network really wanted: Patriots at Steelers (Dec. 16); Patriots at Jaguars (Sept. 16); Steelers at Broncos (Nov. 25); Cowboys at Redskins (Oct. 21); Jaguars at Cowboys (Oct. 14); and Steelers at Saints (Dec. 23). “We got most of our top games we requested knowing some of the marquee AFC games are going to go to the primetime package,” McManus said. “We understood that.”
FOX: The network’s president, Eric Shanks, was hesitant to give up his network’s strategy or a specific game ask (his network, of course, once aired The X-Files, which had the slogan “Trust No One”) but Fox specifically asked the league to take some of their quality Sunday afternoon games that aired in the 4:25 p.m. ET window and put them on its new Thursday Night Football package. The major goal for Fox was to improve the Thursday Night schedule (which they did) and to make sure they could protect the 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday window as the most-watched window on television.
ESPN: Burke Magnus, the network’s executive vice president of programming and scheduling and point person with the NFL on schedules, said he was overjoyed when he learned that his network had landed the season opener for the Oakland Raiders. ESPN made the specific request to have the Raiders home opener in the late game Week 1. Magnus said no specific opponent was specified. “The Raiders were a pretty good team two seasons ago. We believe they have the core of a very competitive team, and Jon Gruden obviously was a big part of our family for a long time,” Magnus said. “The game had several angles to it. There is a curiosity factor to Jon’s return to football after so many years, it’s a good team, it’s a really good opponent. There are many reasons to watch.”
NBC: Given the primetime game on Sunday night is the league’s marquee night game, NBC knows it is going to get the league’s best schedule, but network officials really wanted Green Bay at New England on Nov. 4. “This is a fantastic and rare matchup of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and the Packers and Patriots,” said NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus. “That was a game we requested and lobbied for. We make requests around a variety of games. (NFL vice president and scheduling czar) Howard Katz does a great job of taking care of us and letting us all down gently.”
What stands out the most here is how important ESPN thought it was that they air Jon Gruden’s first regular season game back on the Oakland sidelines. It ends up that the NFL gave Oakland a pretty good opponent for week 1, but given the respective trajectories of the Raiders and Rams, it is hard to believe ESPN is going to get a very good game for the second part of its Monday Night double header.
Also interesting is Fox’s insistence that the NFL beef up the Thursday Night Football slate. Since it’s debut as a full season package, the Thursday night games have been routinely mocked for terrible matchups bolstered by cheap gimmicks like the Color Rush series.
You can read Deitsch’s full NFL season primer here.