As the NFL’s owners gather in Houston for quarterly meetings and assuming that, like the rest of us, they’ll be surfing their phones instead of paying attention to the latest blah-blah -blah about more London games or whatever, here’s an idea intended for each of them who may be reading this instead of paying attention.
It’s an idea that was hatched, like so many of my bad ones are, on the fly while I was riffing during PFT Live about the absence of compelling prime-time games in 2016. This idea was neither sanctioned nor approved by NBC, which I need to mention because NBC would potentially benefit from it — and, frankly, would be expected to pay even more money to the league to make it a reality.
The last Sunday night game of the year is determined six days before kickoff, with none of the Week 17 contests previously earmarked for placement in the 8:30 p.m. ET window.
So why not do that every week?
In my own opinion (and not necessarily in the opinion of NBC, because frankly I don’t know NBC’s opinion on this), the “flex” concept has evolved from a device for putting the best possible game on Sunday night into a mechanism for protecting the NFL and NBC against a stinker. The resistance to swapping out the previously-scheduled 8:30 p.m. ET game for another one likely comes from the political push-and-pull that occurs when CBS or FOX are facing the loss of a game that they chose not to “protect” under the convoluted rules that give the daytime networks squatter’s rights on a handful of games each year.
The better approach, from the perspective of maximizing the network audience in prime time, would be to tentatively schedule no game for the evening slot and to decide on a weekly basis which contest will be moved. This would require a reconfiguration of the existing contracts, because FOX and CBS would have to tolerate, for example, losing last Sunday’s Cowboys-Packers game or this week’s Patriots- Steelers game. It also would create logistical issues for NBC, which would be living a week-to-week guessing game of where the trucks and the crew and the on-air talent would be traveling.
But if the overriding goal is to maximize the TV audience, it would make plenty of sense to pick the premier prime-time game of each week on a week-by-week basis. With a sliding of the schedule impractical on Thursdays and Mondays, the NFL should find a way to distinguish Sunday night.
The best way to do that would make every Monday an occasion for finding out which game will merit being moved to prime time six days later.