(Photo by ABC13.com)
With another ratings-plunge coming soon, pundits with too much time on their hands will repeatedly or erroneously theorize on why NFL primetime game viewership is down. From the never-ending, fatigue-inducing Presidential Election to cord-cutting to Colin Kaepernick kneeling during untelevised national anthems, they all stay clueless until they have a reason that we can agree with: the primetime matchups stink.
Back in April 2016, I had written about the farce that the national television schedule with all NFC East teams having twenty-one combined national television appearances, including eighteen in primetime, and, ultimately, vindication has arrived by my side. Carson Wentz no longer amazes anyone (unless you are ProFootballTalk‘s Mike Florio when finding an attempt to insult the Cleveland Browns), Cole Beasley is no Dez Bryant, and the New York Giants … well, they have problems.
Thanks to their inept running game, overpaid pass rush, and declining passer coasting on his past two Super Bowl rings (things that he will probably never see again), the team has been outscored 57-43 in nationally televised games, 47-26 in primetime.
But according to the New York biased media, it is all Odell Beckham’s fault because of what it hates about black athletes. After all, it would find it hilarious when hearing Rob Gronkowski talk about how his touchdown total is one away from “69.” Frankly, it secretly wishes that no. 69 was aired nationally.
However, thanks to the NFL placing shrunken balls, banned celebrations, and marijuana testing ahead of domestic violence, again, that cannot happen. Especially, as the only person that could have helped Gronk get to that point was Tom Brady.
None of us should have sympathy for the NFL schedule makers as they and their supporters act as if they have the toughest job in the world when all they have to do is choose three primetime matchups from thirteen to sixteen games every week. The NFL knows what day to put actual games in as traveling and venue availabilities play significant roles in planning. But the way it makes primetime schedules despite having the list of available games set in stone, it seems that the NFL only wants to appease traditionalists and spineless young adults that act like prudes in fear of going against their grandpas’ wishes.
As I had stated in the aforementioned April 2016 column, every primetime schedule seems to consist of “thirteen games for the Dallas Cowboys, nine games for an incompetent NFC East team, eight games for two more NFC East teams, two games apiece for the next twenty-five teams, and one game apiece for the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Cleveland Browns.” I am not that far off.
What is worse is that the NFL is too obsessed with not hurting other team owners’ feelings after failing to nationally televise a team that was not even supported by Southwest Ohio’s ticket-resisting, viewership passive, the 9-7 Cincinnati Bengals of 2011. Then the league follows that up with this weekly “get it over with” approach by having the same teams play in nationally televised games in consecutive weeks, many of whom are not even the fans’ fourteenth choice.
For example, we never asked for four national television appearances for the Chicago Bears. Frankly, neither did Chicagoans as there was no hometown momentum from the beginning. Plus, with them knowing that the Bears were not going to be playoff contenders, combined with the Cubs coming off a 2015 NLCS defeat and an apathy/hate relationship with Jay Cutler, there was no point in having them in primetime for even one set of back-to-back weeks.
But the bleeding does not stop there. No one has ever been impressed with Brock Osweiler and had no problem with Peyton Manning, at his worst, taking Osweiler’s spot last year. Why nationally televise him with the Houston Texans for the second straight week against his former team, the Denver Broncos, after we all saw how intolerable his play was in current and previous uniforms?
If anyone is or will be terrible to watch, there is no point in offering more of the worst in a society that only wants the best.
We know that the New Orleans Saints are going to be losers as long as Sean Payton remains the head coach, except Drew Brees is a box office draw and the Saints and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome go together like Roger Goodell and unemployment. With that along with the team’s inability to play defense, it makes sense to broadcast their games nationally and have a matchup featuring its new but exciting arch enemy, the Carolina Panthers. In their last three games, the Panthers have outscored the Saints 106-101 but tied them 79-79 in their last two at the Superdome.
To never nationally televise that game at all is an insult to those two teams and their admirers as youngsters love Cam Newton and nearly everyone wants to watch a great passing quarterback, and Brees is still one of the five best ones.
This nonsense will happen when the NFL decides the schedule. After all, it is run by thirty-two owners, all of whom are spoiled by wealth, drunk with power, too old to change, and, socially disconnected from the common fan. If the NFL wants its viewers back, maybe it is the time that they take the scheduling power out of its front office’s hands and give much of that power to the fans.
The idea makes sense with the expiration of the election season not guaranteeing any sponsorship revenue commensurate with the ones of now, 2014, or 2012. Plus, maybe if it stopped giving a crap about a measurement made in the 1970s, the Nielsen Ratings system, it might find a helpful but not perfect schedule panacea as excess NFC East coverage, bad quarterbacking, and back-to-back “get it over with” games are nothing but poison.
The platform for the fan’s power can be at NFL Network, a network that has been failing to stay in homes as Dish Network dropped it from 14 million, along with its premium weekly channel, NFL RedZone. To justify the network’s off-season existence for cable operators, NFL Network has done stupid things like airing shows such as the poorly designed Top 100 Players and the prospect drug-test void, mock-draft contaminated Path to the Draft. Also, it has dragged along shows like NFL Total Access by discussing garbage stories and hypotheticals to where even the anchors defend the stories’ airings with excuses like “It’s a slow news week.”
Instead, it should create an eight-week long, twice-a-week program called Your Season. It would ideally premiere on March 14 or 16, 2017, roughly one week after Free Agency starts. Free Agency’s momentum usually lasts two or three days due to the available big money and names going away quickly and the remaining players (unrestricted or restricted) re-signing with their ball clubs or getting contractual offers right before training camp starts.
Each episode of Your Season should highlight potential primetime game options as if all of the games would only air on Sunday afternoons and give the viewers an effect that they can do something that NBC claims but squeamishly fails to do, flex scheduling. Of course, not all of the matchups should be made available due to extenuating circumstances and league rules like ones mentioned below:
- No one team can have consecutive weeks in the same primetime viewing slot.
- A team can play in no more than five primetime appearances.
- Teams in East and West Coast time zones cannot travel cross-country to face opponents for Thursday Night Football.
- Teams that play in the UK or overseas have the option of having a bye during the following week.
But once all of the week’s matchups are figured out for each episode, at every ending, the show should advertise viewers polls for each primetime date (Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Football, and Monday Night Football). The polls should be made available at NFL.com and voting for each date should only last up to a week in order to prevent delays for subsequent weeks. Voting results from the previous week’s two episodes would be announced during the subsequent week’s second episode or during a late-week edition of Total Access. For example, if the episode themed around Week 1 and 2’s options aired on March 14 and 16, 2017, the results of their polls would be revealed on March 23 during either aforementioned show.
Once the voting for Week 17 concludes (either May 9 or 11, 2017), the NFL can finally release its schedule the Tuesday or Thursday afterward (May 11 or 16, 2017). The timing will be fine considering that the draft just ended and players and coaches will be in an off-season phase that no one really gives a rats about. Let us not forget, thanks to jerk high school teachers and overwritten exams that made facts from the past feel like John Wilkes Booth was going to shoot us, “that’s history” is now translated as “forgettable.” With that, and most people having brains like Etch-A-Sketches where there is something visually evident but gone after a shakeup anyways, and no one will remember what happened to Week 2’s results once Week 14’s voting has concluded anyways.
As far as the teams that might be left out, the NFL can have them play in London. After all, London games air on the league’s failing network, and mainly poor quality teams like the Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, and Miami Dolphins have been sent there. That way, the NFL can avoid hurting team owners’ feelings by having a home crowd for teams with none and get the exposures of certain ones “over with” with at least one national television spot.
For far too long, the NFL has always felt that it can get away with whatever it wants, but with drops in changes of sponsorship revenue, viewership, and streaming fees, that theory can be disproved. Let us not forget that the current television deal expires in February 2023 and until a loss of fanfare and revenue hit hard beyond the point of salvation, continued owner entitlement will give us no entertainment and the viewing experience we all crave.