What to Make of the NFL’s Experiment with Putting the Draft on Broadcast, Part 2

Last year, after the NFL Draft aired on broadcast for the first time ever, I wrote a blog post looking at the resulting ratings and what it meant for the NFL’s desire for “presidential election”-style coverage of the draft on every major network. This year, ESPN agreed to air all three days of the draft on ABC, with the first two days being college-focused coverage from College GameDay that aired on ESPN2 last year. This was somewhat surprising to me, because last year Grey’s Anatomy significantly outpaced Fox’s coverage in the 8 PM ET hour, and ABC was hosting what amounted to side coverage alongside the existing coverage on ESPN and NFL Network. I figured the league would want to repeat last year’s experiment another year, and if ESPN did decide to put the draft on ABC they would put it on only ABC, making pre-empting Grey’s more palatable and allowing both ESPN and ESPN2 to air NBA playoff games on Friday if needed. Still, it is understandable; ESPN is desperate to maintain their relationship with the league entering contract renegotiations, including pumping up ABC as a broadcast outlet for the league, while still preserving whatever impact the draft still has on their carriage fees.

Did we learn anything more about the future of the draft on broadcast? Let’s find out. This is going to be significantly shorter than last year’s analysis, and I’m going to assume, for the most part, you already read last year’s post for context.

Read moreWhat to Make of the NFL’s Experiment with Putting the Draft on Broadcast, Part 2

What Would a Conference-Free NFL Television Schedule Look Like?

Last month, Variety reported that the NFL was looking into the possibility of decoupling its Sunday afternoon television contracts from each conference in its next television contract beyond 2022 (no link because Variety’s site is too ad-laden and required me to reload something like three times before I could actually read the article; here’s a brief summary). I could swear I at least saw speculation to that effect during or even before last season, because I’m pretty sure I had the idea for this post back then, but I couldn’t find anything and nothing I saw passing on the Variety report tied it to anything earlier, and in any case it might have just been the sort of baseless speculation my commenters like to get into. If the Variety report is the first time this has come to light, it’s worth noting that the specific phrasing used in the report was that Fox and CBS “could get to air packages that include games from both the NFC and AFC, as opposed to the current system, which keeps the NFC on Fox and the AFC on CBS”, so it’s not even clear that it would mean more than an expansion of the current cross-flex system as opposed to the full decoupling it’s easy to interpret it as (assuming anything like this comes to fruition at all, which it might not).

If the NFL does completely sever Fox and CBS’ respective slates of games from conference affiliation, it would do away with what might seem like an archaic relic of the days before the AFL-NFL merger, but it would also pose a considerable logistical challenge. The NFL is unique among major professional sports leagues in the United States in that television production and distribution for all 256 games are handled by national networks; any game not selected to air in primetime is produced by Fox or CBS for regional distribution in one of their Sunday afternoon timeslots. If which network gets which game isn’t determined by which conference the road team is from, what does determine it?

Read moreWhat Would a Conference-Free NFL Television Schedule Look Like?

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Number of Primetime Appearances Per Team for the 2019 Season

Here are each team’s number of appearances across the league’s three primetime packages on NBC, ESPN, and Fox/NFL Network for the season, useful for determining what games can be flexed into or out of Sunday night for my Flex Schedule Watch. Recall the appearance limits are six primetime games for three teams, five for everyone else, and four NBC appearances. In the “Flexible” column, a plus sign indicates SNF games in the Week 5-10 early flex period. Note that the Bucs, Panthers, Jaguars, and Texans may each have one more appearance than I’m crediting them for, as each have games in London airing on NFL Network, and three of the following games will move to Saturday Week 16 on NFLN, increasing their counts: HOU/TB, BUF/NE, DET/DEN, OAK/LAC, or SF/LAR.

Read moreSunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Number of Primetime Appearances Per Team for the 2019 Season