Two years ago, the NFL had a problem. The 15-0 Patriots were visiting the Giants on a Saturday night game scheduled to be televised exclusively on NFL Network.
After pressure was applied, political and otherwise, the NFL gave the American public a belated Christmas gift, exporting the game to NBC and CBS.
This year, the 13-0 Saints host the 8-5 Cowboys on Saturday night. It’s arguably one of the biggest regular-season games of the year, and it comes only two nights after NFLN features the 13-0 Colts, who have essentially declared their regular season over and will now embark on a three-game playoff preseason.
So will either or both games involving unbeaten teams be shifted to one or more broadcast networks?
“There is no historical significance to the game as there was in 2007 when the Patriots were trying to become the first team to complete a 16-game regular season unbeaten,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said via e-mail Monday morning. “Plus, both unbeaten teams this week will be available to a bigger percentage of the country than their games yesterday. Most Saints and Colts games this year (the non prime-time games) have been available to a regional audience.”
Though the Week 15 games involving Indianapolis and New Orleans will indeed be available to a larger slice of the nation — 48 percent of it, via NFLN and over-the-air availability in the local markets of the teams that are playing (but not Jacksonville if the Colts-Jags game doesn’t sell out) — regional games that begin at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sundays are by definition limited-access broadcasts, especially when 10 of them are being played at the same time.
Evening games are intended to be available nationally. As the Saints and Colts try (for the Colts, we probably should put quotation marks around that word) to improve their records to 14-0, the game will be available only in those parts of the nation serviced by cable companies that carry NFL Network. (Of course, the games also will be available via DirecTV, and through Sprint phones equipped with NFL Mobile Live.)
So while we understand the business realities of the league’s decision to eschew $350 million per year in revenue that could have been generated from selling the Thursday-Saturday night package in order to build its in-house television operation, there are certain occasions where exceptions need to be made.
And Saturday night would be a great opportunity to extend some goodwill toward men (and women and children) via a Christmas gift in the form of a true nationwide audience for one of the best games of the 2009 regular season.
We’d also ask for the Colts-Jaguars game to be exported to broadcast networks, but we’d feel bad if Jacksonville were the only city in the country that didn’t get to air it.