Last month, the folks at CBS were able to flex-block the showdown between the Patriots and the Broncos. This time around, no arm-twisting or elbow-sharpening was required.
Saturday night’s prime-time showdown between the Patriots and Broncos will be televised on CBS, in prime-time.
And based on various reports compiled by SportsBusiness Daily, last year’s division-round ratings record generated by the Jets-Patriots game could be in jeopardy.
On the third Sunday of 2011, 43.5 million tuned in for a Sunday game between the AFC East rivals. On the second Sunday of 2012, 42.4 million saw the Broncos steal one from Pittsburgh in overtime.
But the key word is Sunday. Saturday night is typically the worst night of the week for TV ratings. So it will be very difficult to break 40 million when the Broncos and Patriots get together once again.
Still, it’s not impossible. And with Tim Tebow facing Tom Brady, the numbers could be much higher than expected.
One way to guarantee gargantuan ratings for games like this in the future would be to dump the Saturday-Sunday postseason format. A better approach, from a TV perspective, could be to break out a Thanksgiving-style triple-header on Sunday for the first two playoff weekends, with games at 1:00, 4:30, and 8:30 p.m. ET. Then, the fourth game would be played on Monday night.
The NFL hasn’t been bashful about shifting playoff kickoffs to maximize ratings. From the sliding of the Saturday games three hours later to the 3:00/6:30 p.m. ET start time for the conference finals, creative use of the clock generates bigger audiences.
So why not get really creative and avoid Saturday completely?
As to the conference finals, let’s go one step farther and play one game in prime time on Sunday night, and the other one in prime time on Monday night.
Frankly, it’s surprising that the NFL and the networks haven’t already done it. The only question how many more playoff cycles will elapse until they do.