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Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 6

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that even with the bit about the early flexes, this was written with the 2007 season in mind, hence why it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • In the past, three teams could appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC. I don’t know how the expansion of the Thursday Night schedule affects this, if it does. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; ten teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Packers, Bears, 49ers, Steelers, and Saints don’t have games in the main flex period, and all have games in the early flex period. I don’t know if both of the games scheduled for 12/20 count towards the total, or only the one in primetime. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 11 (November 16):

  • Tentative game: New England @ Indianapolis
  • Prospects: 4-2 v. 4-2; hard to imagine it losing its spot.
  • Likely protections: Probably nothing, but if anything Bengals-Saints (CBS) and 49ers-Giants or Eagles-Packers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Besides Fox’s unprotected game, Lions-Cardinals is a possibility, and Texans-Browns is a dark horse.

Week 12 (November 23):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ NY Giants
  • Prospects: 5-1 v. 3-3. This game could start looking lopsided, but the Cowboys being flexed out of SNF would probably be a harbinger of the apocalypse, especially when they’re not the ones dragging it down.
  • Likely protections: Dolphins-Broncos (CBS, confirmed) and Cardinals-Seahawks or Lions-Patriots (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Basically, the only real option is whatever game Fox didn’t protect, although Bengals-Texans is a dark horse.

Week 13 (November 30):

  • Tentative game: Denver @ Kansas City
  • Prospects: 4-1 v. 2-3. Also could start looking lopsided, and doesn’t have the Cowboys invulnerability factor.
  • Likely protections: Chargers-Ravens or Patriots-Packers (CBS) and Saints-Steelers (FOX, confirmed).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving weekend, paucity of good games, especially with Eagles-Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Browns-Bills is a dark horse, but CBS’ unprotected game is really the only good option. Would that overcome the chance to have Peyton Manning on?

Week 14 (December 7):

  • Tentative game: New England @ San Diego
  • Prospects: 4-2 v. 5-1. Very strong to keep its spot.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Bengals (CBS, confirmed) and Seahawks-Eagles (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Colts-Browns is an option, and Bills-Broncos is a dark horse, but none of those are particularly appealing, especially given the tentative they’d have to unseat.

Week 15 (December 14):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Philadelphia
  • Prospects: 5-1 v. 5-1 and an NFC East showdown. If form holds, this game has a mortal lock on this spot.
  • Likely protections: Chargers-Broncos (CBS, confirmed) and 49ers-Seahawks (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Bengals-Browns is the only unprotected game involving two teams over .500, and it would require an absolute collapse by one or both tentative teams and that still might not be enough (as many Cowboys games past have shown). Packers-Bills and Texans-Colts are dark horses.

Week 16 (December 21):

  • Tentative game: Seattle @ Arizona
  • Prospects: 3-2 v. 4-1 makes for a pretty strong game, all things considered, especially given the alternatives.
  • Likely protections: Colts-Cowboys (CBS) and almost certainly nothing, but if anything Lions-Bears (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Browns-Panthers is the only real option at the moment, and it hardly is one. Ravens-Texans and Lions-Bears are dark horses.

Week 17 (December 28):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Against the Tyranny of Nielsen

Last year, Nielsen announced that it would be adding “broadband-only homes” to its television ratings sample and viewing universe. This category consisted of people that not only didn’t subscribe to cable television, but didn’t even have an antenna to watch broadcast television, and thus couldn’t watch any programming on any platform that Nielsen normally measures, so their inclusion in the sample must have seemed superfluous and useless. As a result, ratings, and the estimated universe of people that could watch cable channels, fell. On the other hand, Nielsen also announced that starting this year, it would begin including online viewing of content in its TV ratings… so long as the ad load on those programs was exactly the same as when it aired live.

This unusual outcome is the result of the tension between Nielsen’s actual role in the television industry and the role it inadvertently fills as a result of it. Television networks pay Nielsen to tell them how many people are watching the ads accompanying their programming, because the ads are what are paying for the programming and the people who buy ad time want to know if they’re getting their money’s worth and where they should spend it if they want to. For most of Nielsen’s history, that meant measuring how many people were watching the programs, and as such Nielsen became the barometer for how popular America’s TV shows were.

As time-shifting became more popular, however, and as Nielsen’s measurement practices became more refined, these two purposes became increasingly at odds with one another. Today the currency in the TV industry is “C3″, or how many people are watching each minute of commercial time either live or within the first three days of DVR playback; some media buyers this year have adopted “C7″ as their currency, which is exactly what you think it is. In other words, if you fast-forward past the commercials, your viewing counts for jack all to the networks even if you’re in a Nielsen household. Neither of these are widely reported, but it doesn’t matter because most people do, in fact, fast-forward past the commercials, and waiting the amount of time it takes for the C3 or C7 ratings to come out isn’t always practical (especially if you have a ratings flop on your hands), so the live-plus-same-day ratings that are widely reported are good enough for most purposes. (Nielsen’s definition of “live” is so restrictive that there are enough same-day viewers watching enough commercials to be useful.)

Nielsen’s move to counting broadband-only homes is a direct response to criticism from outside the TV industry that Nielsen dramatically undercounts the true popularity of many shows, especially in the most valuable demographics, by not counting viewership on alternative platforms besides live TV and time-shifted DVR – an attitude that expects and assumes Nielsen to be primarily concerned with its role as barometer of shows’ popularity. But in order for measurement of online viewing to be in any way relevant to the networks that are only concerned about who’s watching the commercials they sold for those shows, Nielsen has to impose the bizarre “same ad load” requirement, which no network or online platform would put in place without the incentive of being counted in Nielsen ratings, preferring dynamic ad insertion techniques that can adjust based on a viewer’s location and Web browsing habits. I try to stay away from authenticated TV Everywhere services, but I did have occasion to use my Dad’s account to use WatchESPN recently, and I found that even there, even while watching the live feed of an ESPN channel that is supposed to be no different from watching it on television, the ads were not the same as on TV, meaning no one using WatchESPN could be counted in Nielsen ratings. Heck, there were one or two commercial breaks where no ads were inserted into the feed, and I still wasn’t getting the ads that were being shown on television, just a placeholder slide.

It is certainly true that the model of television on which Nielsen is based is becoming outdated, but the reality is that Nielsen shouldn’t have had to create such contortions to count online viewing towards its TV ratings, because no matter how many viewers aren’t being counted, as far as the networks are concerned, Nielsen is working exactly as it should. The problem is not that Nielsen is falling short on the goal it doesn’t really have to serve as barometer of the popularity of television shows; the problem is that that role is still relevant even though Nielsen should not really be concerned with filling it. The problem is that the success or failure of television shows is staked to a system that, structurally and by design, can only capture a fraction of its popularity. And this is not a problem with Nielsen, but with the networks.

The vast majority of big-budget, big-studio shows are still widely assumed to need a place on a linear television network’s schedule, to be underwritten by the network and distributed by them to the network’s audience. The network, however, only cares about the show – or at least, should only care about the show – insofar as the show can attract people to the advertisements they can intersperse throughout the show. If not enough people are watching it live to serve as a captive audience for the commercials, the network can and will cancel the show. If a show is on network television, its existence is dependent on the commercials the network airs, or else the network can cut bait and abandon the show, potentially driving it out of existence no matter how popular the show may be on platforms that don’t expose their audience to the same commercials.

Shows should not be dependent on this system, on networks that will stake the show’s existence to a particular set of commercials inserted into the network’s feed. The presence of a show on a linear television network, and thus a show’s ability to attract audiences to a linear network’s commercials, should not be a precondition for a show’s existence; rather, a show should have a presence on a linear network only if that network has reason to believe that they can sell commercials off it and attract the show’s audience to those commercials by giving them a reason to watch it “live”. We’re a long ways away from the day when a show’s presence on linear television is a recognition of its value to the network rather than a precondition of its existence – we’ll know that day has arrived when a show that originated on the Internet moves to linear TV rather than the other way around – but we’re at least seeing halting steps towards throwing off the tyranny of the linear networks and of Nielsen, through the original shows on Netflix and Amazon and through Yahoo’s recent move to give Community one last season. The arrangement between CBS and Amazon for Under the Dome also frees that show’s fate from being dependent on the Nielsen ratings, though as it happens the show has done quite well for CBS, especially for a summer show.

Just as I don’t think linear television is necessarily completely obsolete in the age of the Internet (and it may in fact be of paramount importance, if lessened compared to pre-Internet days), so I don’t think Nielsen needs to worry about its core business going under; even with the prospect of broadcast linear television colonizing mobile devices, given the appeal of that prospect to the consumer and the basic nature of the technology there will always be a place for Nielsen’s measurement methods so long as the transmission of advertising isn’t dependent on a two-way connection over the Internet. I only hope that, so long as linear television remains the primary mode of video consumption, Nielsen does not overly hobble the prospective future where it is not, and that by the time that future arrives both networks and ad buyers (and to some degree the public) will be fully aware of Nielsen’s limitations.

Weekend Sports Ratings for October 4-5

This post will eventually become home to the weekly ratings roundups I was doing for a while last year. For now, The Futon Critic lost its source for ratings a while back, and Douglas “SonOfTheBronx” Pucci has made up for it and then some on TV Media Insights, including some daytime cable shows not on the TVbytheNumbers list, and that was already making for some pretty crowded tweets on the weekends that made me start thinking about putting weekend ratings in the roundup post. Now he’s started including household ratings (and even 18-34 ratings!) for broadcast and cable shows, which has started making even my weekday tweets too crowded to bother with. I’m not even going to attempt it with the weekend, even though I’m way behind where I should be with the ratings overall. Admittedly it’s especially bad now with the baseball playoffs and both college and pro football going on; the cupboard could be quite bare in July.

I’m also giving in and listing overnight ratings just for events in broadcast daytime that don’t show up on either site, certainly not right away, just to serve as a placeholder and give a general sense of how those events did, but I’m graying out the numbers to indicate their uselessness. To get a sense of the scale here, at least for college football, Saturday Night Football got the same 2.3 overnight as the other ABC games.

Click here to learn more about how to read the charts.

Weekend Broadcast Primetime and Top Cable Sports Ratings

All information from TVByTheNumbers and TV Media Insights.

Vwr (mil) HH 18-49 Time Net
NFL: Chiefs @ 49ers
or Jets @ Chargers

19.654

11.5

6.9

10/5 4:25 PM

CBS
Sunday Night Football:
Bengals @ Patriots

19.386

11.7

7.4

10/5 8:30 PM

NBC
CFB: Nebraska @ Michigan State

4.563

2.8

1.4

10/4 8:00 PM

ABC
ALDS: Angels @ Royals, Game 3

4.35

2.6

1.2

10/5 7:30 PM

TBS
CFB: Texas A&M @ Mississippi State

4.101

 

0.6

10/4 12:00 PM

ESPN
CFB: LSU @ Auburn

3.744

 

1.3

10/4 7:00 PM

ESPN
NASCAR: Hollywood Casino 400

3.601

2.3

0.7

10/5 2:00 PM

ESPN
ALDS: Orioles @ Tigers, Game 3

3.297

2.0

0.7

10/5 3:30 PM

TBS
NLDS: Giants @ Nationals, Game 2

3.16

 

0.8

10/4 5:30 PM

FS1
CFB: Arizona State @ USC

2.294

1.4

0.7

10/4 7:30 PM

FOX
CFB: Utah @ UCLA

2.027

 

0.8

10/4 10:30 PM

ESPN
NLDS: Cardinals @ Dodgers, Game 2

1.785

1.0

0.6

10/4 9:30 PM

MLBN
NASCAR Nationwide Series

1.539

 

0.4

10/4 3:30 PM

ESPN
CFB: Wisconsin @ Northwestern

1.257

 

0.3

10/4 3:30 PM

ESPN2
CFB: Miami (FL) @ Georgia Tech

1.133

 

0.4

10/4 7:30 PM

ESPN2
Liga MX

1.062

0.6

0.5

10/4 6:00 PM

Univ.
English Premier League:
Chelsea v. Arsenal

0.874

0.5

10/5 9:15 AM

NBCSN
UFC Fight Night

0.799

0.4

10/5 12:00 AM

FS1
UFC Fight Night (overflow)

0.413

0.3

0.2

10/4 10:00 PM

FX

Weekend Broadcast Daytime Overnight Sports Ratings

These numbers only incorporate data from the 56 metered markets and should not be used to infer precise final ratings. Events will generally finish in the same order, but not always. All information from Sports Media Watch.

HH Time Net
NFL: Regional coverage (or 4 PM ET)

12.8

10/5 1:00 PM

FOX
NFL: Regional coverage

11.6

10/5 1:00 PM

CBS
CFB: Alabama @ Mississippi

3.9

10/4 3:30 PM

CBS
CFB: Stanford @ Notre Dame

2.7

10/4 3:30 PM

NBC
CFB: Baylor @ Texas or
Wake Forest @ Florida State

2.3

10/4 3:30 PM

ABC
CFB: Ohio State @ Maryland

2.3

10/4 12:00 PM

ABC
CFB: Oklahoma @ TCU

1.4

10/4 3:30 PM

FOX
English Premier League:
Aston Villa v. Manchester City

0.7

10/4 12:30 PM

NBC

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 5

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that even with the bit about the early flexes, this was written with the 2007 season in mind, hence why it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • In the past, three teams could appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC. I don’t know how the expansion of the Thursday Night schedule affects this, if it does. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; ten teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Packers, Bears, 49ers, Steelers, and Saints don’t have games in the main flex period, and all have games in the early flex period. I don’t know if both of the games scheduled for 12/20 count towards the total, or only the one in primetime. NBC appearances for all teams: GB 3 (2 semi-flexible), SEA 3 (1 flexible), IND 2 (1 flexible), DEN 3 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), CHI 2 (1 semi-flexible), SF 3 (1 semi-flexible), PIT 2 (1 semi-flexible), CAR 1, NO 2 (1 semi-flexible), DAL 3 (2 flexible), CIN 1, NE 3 (2 flexible), NYG 2 (1 flexible), PHI 3 (1 flexible, 1 ?), BAL 1 (semi-flexible), KC 1 (flexible), SD 1 (flexible), ARI 1 (flexible). All primetime appearances for all teams: GB 5 (2 semi-flexible), SEA 4 (1 flexible), IND 5 (1 flexible), DEN 5 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), CHI 5 (1 semi-flexible), SF 5 (1 semi-flexible, 1 ?), PIT 5 (1 semi-flexible), CAR 3, NO 5 (1 semi-flexible), DAL 5 (2 flexible), CIN 3, NE 5 (2 flexible), NYG 5 (1 flexible), PHI 4 (1 flexible), BAL 3 (1 semi-flexible), KC 3 (1 flexible), SD 4 (1 flexible, 1 ?), ARI 3 (1 flexible), DET 1, NYJ 3, WAS 4 (1 ?), STL 2, HOU 2, TEN 2, MIA 2, ATL 2, all other teams 1.

Briefly, here are the current early-season games and their prospects for being flexed out:

  • Week 7: San Francisco (3-2) @ Denver (3-1). The 49ers started out 1-2, but now that they’ve climbed back above .500 I don’t think you waste an early flex on this. No chance of being flexed out.
  • Week 8: Green Bay (3-2) @ New Orleans (2-3). A bit chintzy, but it is still two name teams and it’s still Aaron Rodgers v. Drew Brees.
  • Week 9: Baltimore (3-2) @ Pittsburgh (3-2). Again, not a great game, but still a marquee rivalry between two teams above .500.
  • Week 10: Chicago (2-3) @ Green Bay (3-2). Basically the same situation as Packers-Saints, except Chicago isn’t quite as big a name (but still a big market) and Jay Cutler isn’t Drew Brees. The Bears would need to look pretty bad for this game to lose its spot, but if the NFL still has one or both early flexes left they could easily burn it on this.

I held off on making this post because I wanted to find out how the new “cross-flex” system affected how protections worked, if at all; the purpose of protections is to protect the afternoon packages, so it seems to defeat the point of protections if you can protect a game from NBC only to lose it to CBS or Fox. On the other hand, that would seem to defeat the point of the cross-flex system, whose main purpose was billed as beefing up the late spot of the doubleheader, which would seem to be difficult to do if you can only move games you could move to SNF anyway (although the tentative game bias would seem to produce at least a few candidates). And then there’s the fact that some games in the flex period have already been picked for cross-flexing, meaning they could be protected by networks that wouldn’t normally have them… Regardless, for now I’m going to assume protections work as they have in seasons past, and as such here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 11 (November 16):

  • Tentative game: New England @ Indianapolis
  • Prospects: 3-2 v. 3-2, about the same as the remaining early-flex games. Obviously this rivalry isn’t as hot as in the Brady-Manning days, but it’s still Brady v. Luck.
  • Likely protections: Bengals-Saints if anything (CBS) and 49ers-Giants or Eagles-Packers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: With no unbeaten teams after just five weeks, you see a lot of mediocrity in the standings, as the early-flex games and this first tentative show. Besides Fox’s unprotected game, Lions-Cardinals is a possibility, and Texans-Browns is a dark horse.

Week 12 (November 23):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ NY Giants
  • Prospects: 4-1 v. 3-2. The NFC East is hardly last year’s tire fire, and for once the Cowboys don’t look quite so mediocre as in years past.
  • Likely protections: Dolphins-Broncos, Bengals-Texans, or nothing (CBS) and Cardinals-Seahawks or Lions-Patriots (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Basically comes down to whatever games CBS and Fox don’t protect.

Week 13 (November 30):

  • Tentative game: Denver @ Kansas City
  • Prospects: 3-1 v. 2-3. Possibly the most vulnerable of the tentatives, yet still has a pretty good chance to keep its spot on its own merits.
  • Likely protections: Chargers-Ravens or Patriots-Packers (CBS) and Saints-Steelers if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving weekend, paucity of good games, especially with Eagles-Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Browns-Bills is a dark horse, but CBS’ unprotected game is really the only good option. Doubtful that’d overcome the chance to have Peyton Manning on.

Week 14 (December 7):

  • Tentative game: New England @ San Diego
  • Prospects: 3-2 v. 4-1. Very strong to keep its spot.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Bengals, Bills-Broncos, or nothing (CBS) and Seahawks-Eagles (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Besides CBS’s unprotected game, Ravens-Dolphins and Colts-Browns are dark horses. None of those are particularly appealing.

Week 15 (December 14):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Philadelphia
  • Prospects: 4-1 v. 4-1 and an NFC East showdown. If form holds, this game has a mortal lock on this spot.
  • Likely protections: Chargers-Broncos (CBS) and 49ers-Seahawks (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Packers-Bills and Texans-Colts, both of which would require an absolute collapse by one or both teams and that still might not be enough (as many Cowboys games past have shown). Bengals-Browns and Dolphins-Patriots are dark horses.

Week 16 (December 21):

  • Tentative game: Seattle @ Arizona
  • Prospects: The NFL sometimes seems to put throwaway games in Week 16 and this may have seemed like one of them, but at 3-1 v. 3-1 it’s nearly on par with the previous week.
  • Likely protections: Colts-Cowboys (CBS) and Lions-Bears but more likely nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Ravens-Texans is the only real option at the moment, and it hardly is one. Browns-Panthers is a dark horse.

Week 17 (December 28):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Will Three Million Comments in Favor of Net Neutrality Sway the FCC – and Should They?

Over the past few months, the FCC has seen a level of public participation unprecedented in the agency’s history. Largely spurred on by John Oliver (not to give short shrift to numerous consumer groups mobilizing the masses), over three million comments were filed in the FCC’s net neutrality proceeding, many by people who couldn’t name more than one or two commissioners and who only knew the name of chairman Tom Wheeler because Oliver told them. The overwhelming majority of those three million comments begged the FCC to preserve net neutrality and an open Internet and not to adopt “paid prioritization” rules that would undermine the concept of net neutrality, with the only comments in favor of paid prioritization being cable companies and people paid off by cable companies.

With so many people weighing in on the issue, surely the FCC will bow to the will of the people and pass real net neutrality, right? According to Seeta Peña Gangadharan writing in Slate, and drawing on his experiences with the 2002 and 2006 ownership reviews when the FCC ignored the input of hundreds of thousands of comments from ordinary Americans, the answer is a resounding no. Depending on how cynical you are, that may not be surprising; what may surprise you is what Gangadharan says are the reasons why, something that he says “points to a much larger tension between federal agencies and the public—and one that we must address if we want our agencies to help restore trust in government and strengthen their civic purpose.”

According to the FCC commissioners and staffers Gangadharan spoke to, the public has a misconception that the comment process is like a vote, when it’s actually “more like a court proceeding” where “systematic, reliable evidence, not emotional expressions” win the day. They considered the many comments filed in the ownership proceeding by people who probably never filed comments to the FCC any other time as “emotional and superficial content”, “prone to error” and “lack[ing] truthfulness”. As one staffer put it, not “usually very deep or analytical or, you know, substantiated by evidence, documentary or otherwise. They’re usually expressions of opinion.” Another went so far as to say some of the comments they received were downright “hilarious” because “you know you’re reading something, and you know it’s not true. And you’re guessing, you know, the person is hallucinating.” As a result, many comments don’t even make it very far in the commission’s bureaucracy, because in the eyes of staffers, “they [don't] need to”. As Gangadharan puts it, to sway the commission you need to “become a lawyer, economist, or researcher and meet the commission’s expectations for what reasoned input really means.”

If the majority of comments from ordinary citizens to the FCC fail to “meet the commission’s expectations for what reasoned input really means”, perhaps that’s because they aren’t “reasoned input” by anyone’s expectations, and if they consider those comments “emotional and superficial content”, perhaps that’s because they are. By and large, when “ordinary citizens” file comments to the FCC they not only tend not to be all that well-argued, resorting to “emotional and superficial” appeals, they often are riddled with spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation errors. The Sunlight Foundation characterized “at least” 60% of the 800,000 net neutrality comments the FCC had received at that time as “form letters written by organized campaigns”, in other words, letters written by people who were able to cogently and coherently articulate their position but which got repeated over and over by numerous people. The fact that a bunch of people were able to submit the same comment over and over and each get counted suggests the commissioners and staffers are not far off in thinking most people, even those that should know better, see the comment process as a “vote”; if the comment process is supposed to be a battle of rational arguments, those numerous repeated comments shouldn’t even count towards the total, but should simply be listed as signatures on a single petition. Otherwise, it’s what people who disagree with their position can dismiss as astroturfing. What does that leave? Here’s a not-quite-random assortment of some of the comments from the remaining 40% – some of which may out to be form letters! – that were posted to the FCC’s site right before the Internet Slowdown protests resulted in a surge of form letters, all of them reprinted in their entirety:

Please do not change the current laws regarding net neutrality. Even under the current laws, ISPs in America are oligopolies in the best cases and monopolies in many rural and suburban areas, and abolishing net neutrality would give them an even stronger stranglehold on the market. The Internet in its current form is a precious resource and should not be sold out for the sake of the bottom line of a hand-full of companies who just so happen to be some of the richest lobbyists in Washington. At the very least, please honestly consider the repercussions of abolishing net neutrality before acting to protect the interests of Big Cable. -Daniel McArtor

Net neutrality is the First Amendment of the Internet, the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) treat all data equally. As an Internet user, net neutrality is vitally important to me. The FCC should use its Title II authority to protect it. -abc

I believe in the free accessibility of the internet for all people. The internet is a right that should not be filtered or throttled by corporations or governments. Please defend the free internet by maintaining net neutrality. -Stephen Winter

Based on my knowledge internet was invented by research organizations and then given to public to bring the whole world closer. Verizon or comcast do not have any right over it just because they own the hardware which facilitates the internet. These companies precisely understand the importance of the internet, how everyone is dependent on it, and it is just a scam to make more money on one of the basic commodities in this country. I oppose the plea by comcast and verzion primarily for the following reason: It is not wrong for these companies to provide faster service to companies who would want to pay more, but my concern is how it will affect other companies/people who cannot afford the speed. I work with entrepreneurs who work on internet start ups, who hardly have any money or they are usually on a strict budget, but our projects sometimes compete with bigger companies. My biggest concern is as it is start ups face uneven field to start off. Now, on top of that if internet provider companies start providing faster service for the rich companies then the field gets even more uneven making it harder for small companies, startups, small businesses to compete with their rich counterparts. Last but not the least, I have a comment on Comcast. Comcast which is the largest internet provider. -Gansh Soms

Stop the corporate greed, you stupid twats.  The public actually cares about this issue.  Baaaaaaaaaa. -Common Sense

The FCC should amend its rules to ensure continued net neutrality.  The pending proposal does not do that.  Instead, it allows an already heavily concentrated industry to gain even greater control over public access to information by selling rights to a “fast lane.”  It also puts businesses, particularly new entrants in the market and those with less capital, at a clear competitive disadvantage.  This will harm the economy in the long term.  The proposed rule is poor public policy and should be rejected, and replaced by a rule that treats these corporate behemoths like the common carriers they are, as a practical matter.  Thank you for considering my comments. -Darrell Murray

When people speak of the greatest inventions of mankind we speak of things like soap (combating bacteria and disease), steel (providing strength to structures our mind can conceive of), and the printing press (allowing the common man the chance to learn to read). Prior to the printing press and the Gutenberg Bible, literacy was solely for the church and the very few. The internet, in its current iteration is available for all and  the greatest tool to spread information. Please do not move forward with the Net Neutrality act. There is NOTHING to be gained by the people who use the internet if this is to go forward. Thank you, Charles Schoenherr

KEEP NET NEUTRALITY! KEEP NET NEUTRALITY! KEEP NET NEUTRALITY! I don’t want the cable companies bending me over my work table and @*!X#$ me up my nether regions. The internet doesn’t need a no move lane and laser speed limousine lane. Fire Wheeler. Putting him in charge of the FCC is like hiring a convicted child molester to baby sit your kids! -Edward Mosle

Please protect net neutrality. The Internet and its use by regular consumers has advanced far enough that internet/broadband service providers should be treated as any other telecommunications service provider and regulated as such. Competition is good, and consumers should have multiple choices, but for a provider to interfere with the speed of data reaching the consumer or charging unfair prices by creating “fast lanes” is not fair to the consumers. -Anahit

I favor HS Internet but I favor more competition among vendors for the consumer & retain the Tier pay plans for users alone & to regulate ISPs as Utility IE Information Utility alone can do much to expand Internet. Pricing should be competitive for consumers esp small business & home users. CUT regulations that deter this from marketplace. CUT any FCC bureaucracy that can impact Net neutrality alone BUT expand FCC enforcement div alone. & one should be able to change users for HS Internet like one can with mobile phones. Hate the mobile phone contracts anyway, consider wireless phone carriers as a Utility like Pacific Bell was years ago. -Stephen Russell

Former Democratic Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, who were on the commission for the 2002 and 2006 proceedings, have “argued that labeling the input of all ordinary citizens as worthless and emotional is misguided”, that the stories they tell “spoke to the failings of a consolidated media marketplace.” Going off their comments, Gangadharan calls on the FCC to “concede that personal experience can be substantive, too”, just as agencies do with consumer complaints, and set a precedent for all agencies to “treat[] rulemaking as a genuine democratic process, that value[s] peoples’ voice, history, and context”. But court proceedings, and other big decision-making processes, are not supposed to make decisions based on anecdotal evidence, but on actual data – especially since most ordinary people don’t have any concrete anecdotes that would argue against net neutrality. If there is a “much larger tension between federal agencies and the public”, it’s even deeper than Gangadharan indicates, because if people are simply sending in their personal anecdotes it’s because that’s what sways ordinary people like themselves, so if there is anything wrong with government agencies it’s in expecting human nature to be anything different from what it actually is. In any case, most of the above comments aren’t even anecdotes; at best they’re just parroting the talking points from the numerous places covering the issue. The commission shouldn’t make their decision based simply on how many comments come in on one side of the issue if the vast majority of them are irrelevant crap that add nothing to the debate (especially those coming from the Internet trolls Oliver specifically called on to comment), and if they do, it will be more out of consideration of the PR consequences, a recognition of the sheer number of people aware of the issue and their reaction to the FCC’s proposals, than anything else.

I filed my own comments to the FCC earlier this month on the current ownership review, which does not seem to have attracted the same intense interest as the ones Gangadharan references (perhaps because the commission is proposing more tightening of regulations than loosening this time around), and read through the rounds of comments that had already been submitted as part of my research for it, and as such I feel I have a good sense of the sorts of comments the commission is actually looking for. Assuming even those comments that do “meet the commission’s expectations for reasoned input” make any impact on the commissioners, as opposed to their minds already being made up for whatever reason on most issues (many of the comments on Gangadharan’s piece point to money being more of a motivating factor than quality of comments in the Commission’s decisions – see Wheeler’s cable-industry-lobbyist background), I think ordinary Americans can get their comments noticed by the FCC if they have a solid understanding of the issue and the arguments being thrown around about them, and at least a basic college-level understanding of rhetoric and argument. I invite you to look at my comments on the ownership review; they’re not perfect (I cite Wikipedia multiple times, including at least one thing that may be just plain wrong, and may be wrong about other things), but at 20 pages and with copious citations, as well as actually confronting the stakeholders’ arguments on the issues I address, I’d like to think it at least provides a framework for ordinary citizens to at least try to compete on a level playing field with the big corporations.

Ultimately, I think the real problem is that the things the FCC does just don’t get much attention from the media, except when it comes to super-obvious things like net neutrality, even though the things the FCC does affect every American. Of course, the big media companies probably don’t want anti-consolidation citizens weighing in on proposals that affect them, but even blogs don’t cover the FCC on a regular basis, focusing on a few big issues like net neutrality or the big cable company mergers with obvious impact on the consumer, without any appreciation of the larger context surrounding the debate on those issues (or even a nuanced discussion beyond the talking points), and mostly when the FCC’s proposals are things they hate (the sports blackout rule notwithstanding). There’s been little coverage of the incentive auction or the general issue of spectrum management (and those that are aware of it tend to support giving more spectrum to wireless companies, unless they’re specifically interested in the state of broadcasting, even though preserving and supporting broadcast TV is vital to preserving net neutrality in the long term), or of the ownership review, or of issues surrounding retransmission consent and a la carte, or of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee’s Republican leadership soliciting input on a proposed update of communications legislation. These are things that could have as much or more impact on the lives of Americans as the issues that get all the attention, but they tend to go under the radar. Having an FCC that works for the people may be more important than with any other agency, because preserving net neutrality and a diversity of voices in general has the overall effect of strengthening our democracy and ensuring the rest of the government works for the people as well, and thus keeping an eye on the FCC is more important than with any other agency as well.

What is the Sports Blackout Rule the FCC Just Repealed?

On Tuesday the FCC voted unanimously to repeal its 40-year-old sports blackout rule, a move that means a lot less than its coverage in the media has made it look like. This is not, in itself, the rule that prohibits the broadcasting of NFL games that don’t sell out or the rule that frustrates MLB Extra Innings subscribers so much, but it is related to the former. As this Awful Announcing piece explains, the blackout rule essentially provides a backstop for the NFL’s blackout rule by prohibiting cable providers from airing games blacked out on local broadcast stations. (It technically applies to all leagues, but the NFL is both the only league with a blackout policy this would apply to and the only league that hasn’t seen virtually all its games migrate to cable anyway in recent decades.) It was never particularly a matter of good policy, with the FCC putting a foot on the scales of private enterprise, but its weird specificity (which betrays its vintage from an almost unthinkably different time not only in the NFL, but in the cable business and the television business more generally) dulls its effect enough that it’s hard to see its repeal changing anything, at least in the near term, given the NFL’s existing contracts.

Despite this, AA itself has inflated the rule’s importance in subsequent reporting on the debates on the issue, and the NFL warned that repealing the rule could force the league to abandon broadcast television and move to cable. It’s hard to see how a rule that keeps games from airing on broadcast, one the NFL could easily repeal its end of tomorrow and obviate the effect of the repeal of the FCC rule, is protecting the presence of games on broadcast, but the FCC’s response, noting the league’s current contracts run through 2022, is worrisome to me, because it doesn’t cover what happens after that, given cable’s unfair advantages, or the fact that the Big Four networks have made clear they would abandon over-the-air television themselves if they could.

Could cable providers air games the NFL has blacked out on local stations? Maybe, but if such isn’t covered by the NFL’s exclusive deal with DirecTV for Sunday Ticket the NFL could still police it, with a potential last resort of holding NFL Network and NFL RedZone over their heads. It may or may not affect DirecTV’s own ability to show blacked-out games, assuming DirecTV blacks out games on Sunday Ticket that are blacked out on the local station, but if so it’s likely that’s guaranteed in their contract as well and the league could continue to police it. The repeal of the FCC’s rule might change the economic incentives for the league going forward, but again the prospect of blacked-out games airing on cable undermining their presence on broadcast is a problem of the league’s own making through their imposition of the blackout rule in the first place. If the NFL declares in their next TV contract – and I’m assuming the impossible, that by the end of this decade the content landscape is exactly as it is today – that the repeal of the FCC rule is forcing them to abandon their commitment to broadcast TV and move their games to cable, it would call into question their motivations for making that commitment to begin with. Protecting gate attendance, no matter what way you slice it, seems to have little to do with protecting the league’s presence on broadcast television, and anyone who thinks there’s a serious prospect of the league eventually abandoning broadcast should be paying more attention to the broken economics of the television industry and the prospect of broadcast being permanently if not terminally crippled by the upcoming incentive auctions. All told, the repeal of the FCC’s blackout rule is a purely symbolic gesture not worth the ink spilled on it, but it does give some indication that the FCC is willing to stand on the side of the consumer and good policy – at least, if they can also stand on the side of the cable companies and against broadcasting at the same time.

An important announcement on plans for Da Blog and my life going forward

Except for around Christmas (including the annual blog-day post), this is the last post I will make on Da Blog from the Seattle area for the foreseeable future.

In my last blog-day post, I mentioned the possibility that my work on Da Blog would be “directly supported and nurtured”; now I can say a bit more about what that was referring to. Over the Labor Day weekend, I will be moving down to live with my dad in Los Angeles. We’ve been talking for several years about this; the plan is for Dad to support me and allow me to work on Da Blog without being distracted by school, a job, the people I live with, or the school I’ve lived across the street from for the past three years, with Dad as my “boss” to keep me focused and try to actually get an audience going and increase exposure to my writings. (While this is going on, the “Da Blog in LA” category will only be used for LA-specific posts I couldn’t have made if I weren’t there, which is to say it probably won’t be used at all.) At one point we talked about us living together for about two years; I don’t know if that’s still the plan, but I have the site’s hosting locked down through June of 2016, and if we still don’t have anything going by then – if we’re at the same place we’ve always been throughout what will then be nine and a half years of Da Blog – it may be time to give up on actually making anything of Da Blog.

Some things have been settled already, but most of the details will be fleshed out on the drive down. I may have another post after the weekend is over detailing any substantial changes coming to Da Blog in the near term as a direct result of this move.

In the meantime, I’ve updated the lineal titles in preparation for football season. It seems I never actually updated the lineal titles before last year, despite what I said in last year’s post. Both of last year’s new college football lineal titles got merged with others; the BCS title was merged with 2006 Boise State pretty quickly, while Ohio State’s claim was merged with 2009 Boise State at the Rose Bowl. This year starts with three lineal titles; Alabama went undefeated until the Miracle at Jordan-Hare and Auburn went on to the BCS Title Game, so 2006 Boise State starts the year with national champion Florida State. You can see what happened to the NFL lineal title on the history page accessible from the category page.

MLB is fixing its blackout policy!!! (not really)

Everyone loves to hate MLB’s “outdated” blackout policies. Of course the NBA and NHL have similar policies and presumably don’t allow you to watch in-market teams online, and they don’t come in for nearly as much hatred, so perhaps the hate towards MLB’s blackout policies is more part of a larger rush to rag on MLB rather than cause of what’s ailing it. Or perhaps it’s because NBA and NHL teams’ blackout areas don’t reach out to a ridiculous extent with no regard to the actual availability of the teams, with the result that areas further away from any MLB teams end up blacked out of more teams than they were if they were closer, with the end result that if you live in Charlotte, the fifth-largest market without an MLB team, you’re blacked out of the Nationals, Orioles, Braves, and Reds, with some markets blacked out of even more teams!

But fret not, because MLB Advanced Media may be about to fix those notorious blackout rules – with a catch:

In an interview this week, Bob Bowman said he is optimistic that a deal could be reached soon with various cable operators, channels and ballclubs. The catch is that even with an MLB.TV subscription, which starts at $20 a month, fans will also need a cable or satellite TV subscription to view hometown teams at home.

That doesn’t seem like it would actually fix any of the problems people have with the blackout rules. People who don’t have a cable subscription still won’t be able to watch any of their local teams’ games; okay, fine, baseball doesn’t want to fix that problem because they’re raking in too much money from RSNs, and baseball games on RSNs are the biggest obstacle to cord-cutting at the moment because of the tremendous popularity of local baseball teams. But presumably, in order to authenticate your cable or satellite subscription you’d need to actually get the RSN your team is carried on, and if you get the RSN your team is carried on you wouldn’t need MLB.tv or MLB Extra Innings to watch it in the first place!

It seems like this change is oriented more at solving another, very real but mostly unrelated, problem: how slow RSNs have been at embracing streaming. The Yankees shut down their ridiculously-expensive streaming service after five underwhelming seasons this year, leaving no US teams with any in-market streaming capabilities. The main issue appears to be that RSNs want to offer streaming at no additional cost while teams want to be reimbursed on top of what they’re already being paid to be on the RSN to begin with, at a time when virtually every national rights deal includes streaming rights, and the distinction between carriage on linear television and streaming services is an artifact of times past. MLBAM’s solution appears to be using the existing MLB.tv infrastructure to create in-market streaming for all teams through brute force, with an eye towards seeing how much extra revenue they can collect that way while still forcing customers to authenticate (though don’t expect it to be very successful when you’re charging more than what YES was charging – $20 a month v. $69.95 a year). If that’s what you want to do, that’s great, but don’t bill it as “fixing the blackout rules” when it’s not.

When and how did broadcast television lose the battle to cable?

What is the most popular programming on television this summer? What network is most attracting viewers’ attention with all the choices out there?

Is it NBC on the back of its hit reality show America’s Got Talent?

Is it CBS and its collection of shows popular with all ages, from Big Brother to 60 Minutes?

Is it ABC with shows like The Bachelorette? Or Fox with MasterChef and Hell’s Kitchen?

Perhaps it’s something on cable? Might it be TNT on the back of Major Crimes and Rizzoli and Isles?

Perhaps it’s USA on the back of the insanely popular WWE Raw?

Perhaps it’s seasonal and occasional programming like Shark Week on Discovery or Sharknado 2 on SyFy?

Perhaps it’s whatever ESPN puts on, since sports seems to be the big thing these days?

The correct answer is none of the above.

For 12 of the 24 markets where at least one relevant RSN isn’t embroiled in carriage disputes, the correct answer is the local baseball team on the local RSN, according to Maury Brown’s analysis on Forbes.com.

Several more teams place in the top three, and every single one of the 27 US teams whose RSN isn’t embroiled in carriage disputes ranks in the top nine shows in primetime in their respective markets – regardless of how they’re doing in the standings.

All told, local baseball team games add up to an average 1.99 household rating – and that doesn’t include the viewership the Dodgers and Astros would be getting if they weren’t mired in carriage disputes, or the viewership teams get from outlying markets.

For the record, the 10th-most watched show on cable TV for the week of August 4-10 only managed a 2.2 rating – and at least two shows in the top ten didn’t air in primetime.

Forget about ESPN; it may well be RSNs and the local sports they provide that keep people tied to their cable connection more than anything else.

Out of all national baseball broadcasts in 2013, only four or five of the six World Series games drew a higher rating than Detroit Tigers regular-season games averaged through the 2014 All-Star Break. Only the remaining World Series games beat the regular-season average of the Cardinals and Pirates – and one of those teams was in that World Series. And the World Series was on broadcast, while all those local games were on cable.

Perhaps most tellingly, no sports event on cable that wasn’t a BCS or NFL game drew a better rating in 2013 than the Tigers, Cardinals, and Pirates 2014 regular-season averages.

For all that I complain about the BCS (and now the CFP) and the Final Four moving to cable, perhaps it is the absence of local Major League Baseball games on broadcast television that is the real crime. Of the many reasons why I hate the existence of “MyNetworkTV”, perhaps one of the bigger ones is that it should not have been necessary to provide programming to fill the hole on stations left behind by the CW merger. Local sports, especially baseball in summer, could have more than sufficed – if those stations were willing and able to acquire it.

By the way, MyNetworkTV was founded in 2006, two years before the BCS deal that first opened my eyes to cable’s unfair advantages over broadcast and made me worried about the march of sports events to cable.

Which brings me back to the question in the title of this post: When and how did broadcast television lose the battle to cable?

Was it the advent of the dual-revenue stream pioneered by ESPN? Was it when UPN and the WB were founded, giving formerly independent stations programming commitments that made it harder for them to air local sports? Was it when – implicitly voluntarily – broadcast stations “stopped bidding for sports rights“, surrendering them, the massive ratings they entailed, and what would turn out to be a big chunk of the reason for the existence of all of linear television, to RSNs that would in turn keep people tied to their cable connection? Was it when the CW merger happened and the stations left behind formed and/or joined MyNetworkTV rather than face an uncertain future – one that could have made them far more relevant than any alternative?

Whenever it happened, one thing is clear: the disappearance of local baseball from broadcast television is one of the great underrated stories of the rise of cable, and one of the great missed opportunities of the past few decades for broadcast – and still represents perhaps broadcast television’s greatest opportunity for relevance going forward. I still think the stations exist to support a true fifth broadcast network - in large part due to stations that held steadfastly to their independence rather than join the Fox network when it launched. But given this, I’m no longer sure how many of them would want to.

What can baseball do to save itself?


That was Keith Olbermann’s intro to last night’s show, where he used the occasion of the 20-year anniversary of the 1994 baseball strike to opine on the existential threat facing baseball today – kids not getting interested in the sport and declining national TV ratings. To that I would add weak ratings, even considering the sport’s weak general ratings, among people slightly older than kids – the 18-49 demographics advertisers love. He attributes the decline of national TV ratings to the adoption of interleague play removing the novelty factor of being able to see teams you’d otherwise only be able to see if your team made the World Series, requiring baseball to find “a new reason” to watch nationally televised games even when your team isn’t playing in them, thus keeping up the value of the national TV contract and in turn keeping smaller market teams in business. What should that new reason be, and how can baseball create it?

I’m going to assume that the problem is not that baseball is an inherently boring sport, something people have been saying for decades, even though even baseball’s fans sometimes wax poetic about the sport being “passed down from father to son”, which is another way of saying the only reason anyone would be a baseball fan is because their parents brainwashed them to be. I’m going to assume the sport can be saved when a lot of damage to its currency among younger people has already been done, which also requires leaving aside factors like steroids that might have poisoned the sport for a generation, and rendered its records, once a massive part of the mythology of the sport, untrustworthy forever. Even then, baseball has signed its new TV contract and as such there are some things it can’t change, like having TBS come out of nowhere for the postseason, and it can’t inoculate itself against cord-cutting when it’s just agreed to cut its presence on broadcast TV to a few weeks in the middle of summer and September in favor of a network that might be one of the first to go if cord-cutting results in catastrophe for linear cable TV. I’m also going to leave aside things involving the game itself like speeding up the pace of play or getting rid of Joe Buck.

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that football and basketball have the equivalent of interleague play, and significantly stronger national TV ratings – in basketball’s case, in spite of the fact that it has games on every day on cable TV just as baseball does, even though that is often perceived as “oversaturating the product”. They do this because they are able to craft a national narrative larger than any individual team, one driven by stars that encourages people all over the country to pay attention. Everyone knows the Patriots are “Tom Brady’s team”, or the Broncos are “Peyton Manning’s team”, or the Saints are “Drew Brees’ team”, and they automatically know what it means when any two of those teams square off and are willing to tune in for same. Ditto for basketball where the Cavaliers are “LeBron James’ team”, the Lakers are “Kobe Bryant’s team”, or the Former Sonics are “Kevin Durant’s team”.

Baseball is a star-driven sport – certainly more so than hockey, where the stars are only on the ice one-fourth of the time and don’t really have any more impact on the outcome than the lesser lines – and should be able to take advantage of the same factors, crafting a national narrative out of its pennant races. But there also are a lot of things football and basketball has that it doesn’t:

  • Baseball has way more games in a regular season than football or basketball – nearly double the NBA’s number. Those games are divided up into series where two teams play each other day after day. When, say, the Clippers and Celtics face off, it’s an event among many similar events over the course of the season. When the Angels and Red Sox face off, they’ll face off once on MLB Network, then again on ESPN, then again on MLB Network – and if it’s on the weekend they’ll go MLB Network, then Fox or Fox Sports 1, and then ESPN. It sort of dilutes the knowledge that these two teams are facing off when you see them two to four straight days.
  • Baseball may be a star-driven sport, but not nearly to the extent of football or basketball where one good player can completely change the fortunes of a franchise. No position player has much more than a one-ninth impact on a team’s fortunes. In football and basketball, that makes it much easier for smaller markets to join the ranks of the marquee franchises. The Moneyball era has made things easier for small-market baseball teams, but the lack of a salary cap, coupled with the need to put together a complete team on a scale not necessary in football or basketball, makes it very difficult to keep the marquee teams from being a procession of the Yankees and Red Sox over and over.
  • In the case of pitchers, it’s too difficult to ensure that a pitcher is starting on the same day as one of your marquee national TV windows.
  • Football and basketball stars are usually pre-made in college. People don’t care as much about high school or college baseball, and even if a sensation does come along they generally have to toil away in the minor leagues for a while, which people care about even less unless they have a minor league team nearby or are really interested in how their major league team’s farm system is doing.

There certainly are some things baseball can do about some of these – a while back, Awful Announcing’s Steve Lepore pointed out that the seeming dichotomy between shoving the Yankees and Red Sox down people’s throats all the time, and trying to “spread around” the wealth to all 30 MLB teams, misses that what baseball fans really want is to be able to see the good teams, whether they’re the Mets and Yankees or Brewers and Royals, square off against one another on national television, and follow the pennant races that way, and to some degree MLB Network (but not ESPN, which keeps following the former approach, and Fox, which tried the latter approach this year) has done that. Many, however, are things MLB has little to no control over, and to the extent that it does it’s probably as unlikely to try them as to get rid of interleague play. Does baseball want to substantially shrink the regular season? Is it willing to take the plunge on a salary cap?

With that in mind, perhaps the best thing baseball can do to improve its long-term fortunes, specifically in small markets, is to find a way to get rid of the RSN loophole, which is a big reason so much of MLB’s revenue sharing does come from the national TV contract. What is the RSN loophole? Well, here are the ten most valuable franchises in the major leagues according to Forbes magazine:

  1. New York Yankees, $2.5 billion
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers, $2 billion
  3. Boston Red Sox, $1.5 billion
  4. Chicago Cubs, $1.2 billion
  5. San Francisco Giants, $1 billion
  6. Philadelphia Phillies, $975 million
  7. Texas Rangers, $825 million
  8. St. Louis Cardinals, $820 million
  9. New York Mets, $800 million
  10. Anaheim Angels, $775 million

What do these teams have in common? Nine out of ten of them own all or part of the regional sports network that airs their games. The tenth, the Cardinals, are valued at a third of the level of the top-ranked Yankees – mostly because their fanbase draws from such a wide area. Owning a stake in an RSN has become all the rage in recent years, because while the rights fees that teams get from their RSNs are subject to revenue sharing, the boost that a team gets from actually owning a piece of the RSN is not. That’s allowed the Yankees to remain on top of the baseball pyramid despite the revenue sharing schemes baseball has adopted in recent years, through their ownership of YES Network. It also allows teams to benefit with money not subject to revenue sharing when other teams set up shop on the same network. When the Nets do well, the Yankees do well. When the Bruins do well, the Red Sox do well. When the Bulls do well, the Cubs do well. When the Warriors do well, the Giants do well. When the Flyers or 76ers do well, the Phillies do well. When the Mavericks or Stars do well, the Rangers do well.

The next-most valuable teams that do not own a piece of an RSN are #11 Atlanta ($730 million), which also draws from a huge fanbase built over the team’s years on WTBS; #15 Detroit ($680 million), the most popular team on a per-capita basis in baseball, and both of those two teams are from two of baseball’s larger markets; #18 Toronto ($618 million), which draws from all of Canada; and finally, #19 Minnesota ($605 million) and #20 Cincinnati ($600 million), two teams in the bottom half of all major league teams with four teams valued at double their value, and that don’t even double up the poorest team in baseball, the $485 million Tampa Bay Rays. The NBA and NHL don’t have this problem, either because they try harder to reach for the RSN dollar or the existence of the salary cap reduces the incentive to own a stake. Here is the complete list of NBA and NHL teams to own a stake of their RSN: Bulls, Blackhawks, Rockets, Bruins, Celtics, Maple Leafs. The seven richest baseball teams all own stakes of RSNs, and the number of teams in other sports that own pieces of RSNs are six total.

What can baseball do about this? They could try and find a way to go after revenue obtained from owning RSN stakes and draw it into the revenue-sharing fold. They could institute a salary cap and blunt the incentive to cheat the revenue-sharing system. Or they could look at the ongoing carriage disputes plaguing CSN Houston and Sportsnet LA – not to mention how ugly the dispute between the Orioles and Nationals over MASN has gotten – and wonder if the lucrative RSN market is built on a house of cards, the scam that is the cable subscription fee model, that is starting to come tumbling down, and find a way to pre-empt them all and save even the richest MLB teams from themselves, while also putting themselves in better position than their competitors for the future of video content. Again, baseball has already signed its national TV contract and is stuck with its cable-heavy nature for the foreseeable future, and the NBA may yet go the other way, but there might still be quite a bit baseball could do on the local front.