On Monday Night Football Ratings, Scheduling And Flex Games

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This past Monday, I posted an item on ESPN not being necessarily happy with the selection of the 49ers-Cardinals game for Week Ten, and added that I didn't even know why they would pick such a game. A few people wrote in and asked me exactly how the games were selected, and I replied with a wishy washy answer about how teams put in requests and the NFL decided who to put where. While true, I didn't ultimately know the full process and where the ultimate power lied. I went delving for the answer and this is what I found.

Before we start with that though, I'd like to try and explain the rules as best I can. First, each primetime entity (ESPN, NBC, NFL-N) picks the games they would like each week before the season. From there the NFL slots those games in and then fills in the CBS and FOX schedules accordingly. Each team is only allowed, at the most, six primetime games which adds even more caveats to the selections. It can't be an easy process and when you throw in NBC's flex option it gets even more convoluted.

NBC's flexing of games seems just about the most unfair process this side of the BCS. Sure most of the times they don't decide to use it, and a lot of times it hasn't worked out for them, but this year could be different. Both CBS and FOX get to protect a game each week during weeks twelve through seventeen. Seems fair right? Well that's until you find out that those selections have to be made in October!

So if you're CBS and FOX back in October, who are you protecting most weeks? It has to be some combination of the Jets, Colts and Steelers for CBS and the Cowboys and Giants for FOX. Well that's all fine and dandy, but what happens if the Cowboys and Colts lost their next two games? You'll be stuck with two teams almost completely out of the Playoffs the rest of the way. NBC will be left to pick whichever Playoff race game from the NFC, as well as any game from the possibly undefeated Titans.

This brings us back to our original question and that's, "why the hell would ESPN pick the 9ers-Cards for their week ten Monday Night Football game?" The answer is of course that they didn't. The NFL did. I know that the network probably selected it as one of their options for that week, but with all of the complicated rules in place, they were basically forced to go with that one. In the end though, it doesn't really matter how dreadful it looked on paper, because it turned out to be one of the highest rated MNF games of the year with a 8.9 cable rating (8.683,000 HHs and 11,870,000 viewers, 4th highest-rated MNF of the season).

In the end, competitive Football will always win the ratings game, something which NBC should be able to achieve if they decide to flex any games the rest of the way.


Thanks so much for the write-up, AA... Way too clear this up, as much as it can be, right?

Sammy said...
Nov 12, 2008, 3:16:00 PM  

AA, the 48ers vs Cardinals game was on week 10 not 11.

Anonymous said...
Nov 12, 2008, 3:40:00 PM  

Wow, thanks for the info AA. I learned a whole lot from reading that about how this whole process works.

And yes, competitive football will win out. When people flip channels at night and see a close football game (especially one that's not supposed to be close), chances are they are going to stick with it.

And actually if you think back to the beginning of the year, while not exactly a marquee Colts-Pats game or an NFC East Showdown (you can pick any two teams), the Cardinals, as always, were seen as the sleeper team to watch out for (finally they came through) and the 9ers were so supposed to be improved (which didn't turn out to be so true, sorry 9ers fans). What I'm getting at is this, at the beginning of the year, stood out as a bigger game on paper than the game on paper before it kicked off. The rest, of course, is history and we got a thriller.

JFein said...
Nov 12, 2008, 3:44:00 PM  

AA you are my go to guy for the weekend viewing and announcing schedule. Great job. Since this is my 1st year without Sunday ticket I always look forward to seeing what we get here in Denver and who will be calling the games. Great info on the scheduling as well. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...
Nov 12, 2008, 3:58:00 PM  

Look at AA! Bringing it strong to the hole today!

GMoney said...
Nov 12, 2008, 4:08:00 PM  

Any chance the increased ratings were due to the fact that there were at least four guys in the game that are huge fantasy football point scorers? New England-Denver and Minnesota-New Orleans are the Monday Nighters than can compete in terms of the potential for game-changing performance in the last game of the week.

Broader question is whether FF is big enough at this point to impact Monday night ratings.

Grover said...
Nov 12, 2008, 4:19:00 PM  

Any chance the increased ratings were due to the fact that there were at least four guys in the game that are huge fantasy football point scorers? New England-Denver and Minnesota-New Orleans are the Monday Nighters than can compete in terms of the potential for game-changing performance in the last game of the week.

Broader question is whether FF is big enough at this point to impact Monday night ratings.

Grover said...
Nov 12, 2008, 4:19:00 PM  

I agree with the fantasy implications helping out the ratings of this game, Steve Breaston came through huge for me...I was actually looking forward to that game anyway because I live on the east coast and hadn't been able to see Arizona's offense in action yet this year. Their past reputation is hanging over them, but this is a different team.

It's nice to get a change from Pats, Steelers, Cowboys, Colts once in a while.

Anonymous said...
Nov 12, 2008, 4:32:00 PM  

That's an interesting angle because just about everyone I know had at least someone playing in that game. Could very well be true.

Nov 12, 2008, 4:43:00 PM  


John Ryan from the Mercury News gives more detail explaining the exclusivity rights to time slots and the like in the shared Bay Area market.

Anonymous said...
Nov 12, 2008, 5:07:00 PM  

Yay: CBS protected Jets-Titans and Fox protected Giants-Cardinals for Week 12. The Titans and Big Red both play on Thanksgiving Day and a Sunday-night game 4 days before would really screw their short week.

Boo: NBC not flexing in Patriots-Dolphins for Week 12. A rematch of the Wildcat game would have been better than a matchup of underachievers in Colts-Chargers.

Anonymous said...
Nov 12, 2008, 5:42:00 PM  

AA is king!

Anonymous said...
Nov 12, 2008, 5:44:00 PM  

Another reason this game was chosen was probably because the 49ers were playing.

Since San Fran and Oakland share the same market (as does NYC), the NFL can't schedule both of their games at the same time. While most weeks they can send one team on the road for a 1 pm and keep one at home for a 4 pm, it doesn't always work, hence you'll see the occasional MNF or SNF featuring what might be an undeserving team (Note that the Jets are playing a Thursday night game this week and Oakland drew a MNF game week 1 despite being awful for years...)

Anonymous said...
Nov 12, 2008, 8:00:00 PM  

That makes sense..I always wondered why the Giants seemed to always play a Saturday game each December but not this year, I guess it has to do with the Jets on Thursday this week.

Anonymous said...
Nov 12, 2008, 8:30:00 PM  

I guess i'll take a contrarian opinion here. Didn't the game turn out to be exciting and competitive? What's wrong with an SF/Ari matchup instead of freaking dallas and washington for the 40th consecutive year??

free quinn gray said...
Nov 12, 2008, 9:15:00 PM  

I understand the ins-and-outs of the process more, but let's be realistic: it's the Prime-Time Cable Game. The PTCG has always been the showcase for the 2nd-tier teams that aren't likely to be playing the spotlight games. That's why you get ARI or HOU or SF playing, or even NO or BAL (non-playoff teams from last year). IND-NE would have been on MNF if it was still a network broadcast. Instead, it got the SNF slot, which is now the A-Level Prime Time Game.

The NFL isn't ready to put their A-Level match-ups on cable yet. And before anyone bring ups the GB-DAL or NE-NYG NFL-N games from last year, no one expected them to have the importance that they did when the schedule came out.

Bouj said...
Nov 13, 2008, 11:53:00 AM  

I am an NFL Junkie, and on Sundays do extensive NFL Recaps on my blog.

The reason why the MNF games are lamer than usual is because MNF is no longer the main attraction. Sunday Night Football has Madden and Michaels, and they get the marquee games. Sunday Night Football used to have terrible matchups.

The nights got switched.

SNF was egalitarian, while MNF was elite. Now it has shifted.

Also, keep in mind that the game itself was a thriller, justifying the "Any Given Sunday" notion of prime time. Cleveland throttled the Giants for that reason.

Lastly, going into the season one could see that the Cardinals had the potential to be the Greatest SHow in the Desert. The 49ers were thought to be on the upswing. This was not as terrible as Lions-Bengals on paper.


eric aka the Tygrrrr Expres.

P.S. I only cover football on Sundays. The rest of the week is politics. Please check out my NFL Recaps. I liveblog the games.

Anonymous said...
Nov 13, 2008, 1:31:00 PM  

what an excellent football game that was...down to the last series..i am not a 49er or Cardinal fan, but was glad to see a different matchup than the ones we typically see on MNF.

whoever picked that game for MNF gets some props..

matt said...
Nov 13, 2008, 1:45:00 PM  

The beauty of the NFL is always that you never know what games will be good and which ones will be dogs. Thus, ESPN rolled the bones with 49ers-Cardinals and they won big time. As for the Bills and Browns, this appears to be snakeeyes. As for NBC, Falcons/Broncos should be the primetime game as the Cowboys SUCK and even without Portis, the Redskins should pound them.

Brad James said...
Nov 13, 2008, 1:46:00 PM  

The NFL probably chose this game to sop up two west coast markets to drive up ratings for the national doubleheader game--Colts/Steelers. Also, the Panthers were playing the Raiders in Oakland, so FOX already had a game to show for the Bay Area (although I think it was blacked out, oops) so they didn't want to throw 49ers/Cards in the mix, which would also have to be shown in the late window.

As for Browns-Bills...I'm just looking forward to Mike Tirico saying "Western New York" about 35 times.

J. Rangel said...
Nov 13, 2008, 1:58:00 PM  

In the Bay Area, both the Raiders and 49ers are guaranteed at least one primetime game. This is because when the Raiders host an NFC team (i.e. CAR this past week), the 49ers must either be on a bye or on primetime, so as not to conflict. The two teams cannot play at the same time, or on the same network. This is also happening in week 14, where the 49ers are hosting the Jets, so the Raiders are on the NFL Network game.

Anonymous said...
Nov 13, 2008, 2:03:00 PM  

Post a Comment