Sunday Night Football

It seemed to be an annual rite that the NFL would flex one of its Week 17 games into primetime for NBC. In past years, it meant a game that would have playoff significance and/or entail a “Win or Go Home” scenario. However, we won’t see that this year. As we told you earlier this week, the NFL decided to forego a primetime game saying there wasn’t a game that met its criteria for Week 17.

This leaves NBC without a Sunday Night Football game to close out the regular season next week. At first glance, it’s a good thing as this year, New Year’s Eve falls on a Sunday and traditionally, it’s a low-rated night for broadcast and cable networks. People are usually out celebrating the New Year and as we have seen with the College Football Playoff, scheduling live sports on New Year’s Eve doesn’t work.

In its official announcement late on Christmas Eve, NFL vice president of broadcasting and scheduling guru Howard Katz used the “competitive balance” card to explain why NBC wasn’t getting a game this Sunday:

“We felt that both from a competitive standpoint and from a fan perspective, the most fair thing to do is to schedule all Week 17 games in either the 1 p.m. or 4:25 p.m. ET windows.”

That meant CBS and Fox would air the games in those windows. At face value, that makes sense. Katz continued:

“This ensures that we do not have a matchup on Sunday Night Football on New Year’s Eve that because of earlier results has no playoff implications for one or both of the competing teams.”

This decision prevents a dog matchup from being flexed into primetime, prevents NBC from airing a low-rated game, and also gives us more Carson Daly this Sunday than we ever need.

But aside from Carson Daly, the NFL has a situation with NBC where it may have to give the Peacock something in return for taking away a game this Sunday. It’s too late for this NFL season, unless the league gives NBC Sports two primetime playoff games in January. But the NFL also has to do deal with its other TV partners, CBS, ESPN, and Fox. The other networks, CBS and Fox in particular, will want to have favorable timeslots for their playoff games.

Let’s say this season is out to make good for NBC. The NFL would need look at the 2018 regular season. One possibility is to give NBC a game involving a marquee team, like either Dallas or New England. Or if NBC bids on Thursday Night Football for next season, put that marquee matchup in that package.

NBC isn’t commenting publicly about the non-flex on Sunday, but it might be actually relieved that it doesn’t have to air a game that might not have playoff implications. There’s also the possibility of a potential blowout, but that’s not a situation unique to Wk 17.

When it puts together the schedule for the upcoming regular season, the NFL has to find a way to make all of the television partners happy. They’ll try to give CBS, ESPN, Fox, and NBC the games they want, and provide that competitive balance in the schedule so one network doesn’t appear to be favored over another.

NBC will likely use its “No Game in Week 17 in ‘17” card to put some pressure on the NFL next spring and rest assured, it will remind the league of this in the coming months.

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013.

He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television.

Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

  • Caleb Sayre

    I think they should have just moved SNF to ~4:25 or whatever, then we could have 3 games on at the same time!

    • newdog301

      Yeah, none of the networks would want that.

      • Caleb Sayre

        Yeah, Im assuming that’s why they didnt do that, and I wonder if there’s something in their contact with CBS and FOX that would prevent that anyways. But if they did that, they wouldnt have to worry about “making good” with NBC down the road, which probably will involve taking something from CBS/FOX and giving it to NBC anyways. Also, I think fans would really like having 3 games on at the same time.

  • Bscotch Bscotch

    They don’t have to make good on anything – it’s the NFL’s contractual right to do this.

  • newdog301

    I don’t think they have to “make good” on anything.

    I would assume NBC gets part of their money back. Maybe not 1/18th of what they paid for this year because the NFL would argue it is not an equal game, but I am sure they get something.

    • Walt_Gekko

      They likely DO have to do a make good or two. I explained what I would do in another post.

    • Super Mateo

      It all depends on what the contract says, but if it’s anything other than NBC receiving some money back from the NFL, I’d be surprised.

      • Walt_Gekko

        I suspect as noted in my other comment, NBC permanently gets a new Wednesday-after-Thanksgiving game tied to the tree lighting in Rockefeller Plaza (to permanently replace the final Sunday night game) while for next year only getting a Thanksgiving Eve game that starting in 2019 alternates between FOX and CBS (and again, paired with a new “Black Friday” game most likely in London that ESPN gets next year in place of a Christmas Eve game that also starting in 2019 alternates between CBS and FOX) and NBC also getting to next year do at least one “protection override” where it can take a protected game from FOX or CBS and there is nothing FOX or CBS can do about it.

        • David

          That’s not happening. You know that’s not happening. None of your crazy scenarios ever happen.

          Here’s what’s going to happen as a result of all this.. very little. At most, maybe NBC gets a slightly more favorable schedule next year. That’s it. No more. None of this nonsense about a Wednesday game after Thanksgiving or playing in London on Black Friday.

          • Walt_Gekko

            I suspect NBC’s Entertainment Division WILL want a game to make up for losing Week 17 this year. Best way to do it is to have it the Wednesday after Thanksgiving and tie it to the tree lighting in Rockefeller Plaza (game kicks at 7:45 PM ET with an extended halftime for the tree lighting). That can be made permanent for losing the final Sunday nighter,

            As for adding games Thanksgiving Eve and “Black Friday,” these can be done next year as a make-up for NBC (Thanksgiving Eve) and in place of a Christmas Eve game on ESPN (Black Friday) that can starting in 2019 be new games for CBS and FOX.

  • Sting Rey

    this is similar to mlb who tries to have all 162nd games start at the same time for playoff intrigue.

    • Walt_Gekko

      Actually, that’s how it’s done in most other pro sports leagues worldwide. I suspect what we will see next year is the NFL (most likely by creating a new Week 18 that gives all teams a second bye week specifically tied to mid-week games) with all games in one conference at 3:00 PM ET and the other at 7:00 PM ET with all games divided up between ALL of the NFL’s broadcast partners and airing simultaneously (see my first post for more on this along with the other stuff).

      • Dale Moog

        That will NEVER EVER HAPPEN the NFL is invested in the REDZONE they will never allow all the Sunday games to be offered to EVERYONE they want you to pay for that right Direct TV would take the NFL to court to protect Sunday blackouts and regional games wake up people it will NEVER change.

        • Walt_Gekko

          That’s why I do it as a new Week 18 that is completely separate from the rest of the NFL package.

          And even with every game available over-the-air, the NFL still will get people to RedZone. Most if not all who watch RedZone will still watch it since they are unlikely to flip the channels. DirecTV would not be part of a new Week 18 and if necessary, deals can be worked to accommodate that.

  • Shame Hannity

    They should have flexed the Cleveland @ Pittsburgh game to Sunday night primetime. What better way to ring in the New Year than to see if the Browns can run the table?

    • Walt_Gekko

      I suspect local authorities in Pittsburgh shot down that idea and I’m sure other local authorities weighed in on the thought of having a Sunday night game on New Year’s Eve as well. John Harbaugh already slammed the NFL for the Ravens game being at 4:25, he would have slammed them even harder had it been a Sunday Nighter.

      • Super Mateo

        Oh yeah, I’m sure it had everything to do with Pittsburgh’s authorities and nothing to do with the fact that their opponent is 0-15. That has to be it.

        • Walt_Gekko

          I’m sure a LOT of local authorities informed the NFL that if there was a Sunday Night game locally, it would interfere with security for New Year’s Eve events that were long planned. New Year’s Eve is a lot different from a normal final Sunday of the year in the NFL and why the next time New Year’s Eve is a Sunday, the NFL should move the final day to Saturday, Dec. 30 and let college football have New Year’s Eve.

          • David

            College football no longer wants New Year’s Eve. They thought they did, but they saw how that worked out.

            And no, I sincerely doubt local authorities said anything to the NFL. The only place that probably happened was in Atlanta because they have the Peach Bowl the next day.

  • Dale Moog

    Watch the NBC games will be on Saturday night in the first two rounds. They will get the BEST match up for Wildcard Weekend maybe LA/ATL. then they will get the best best match up in the Divisional round with Maybe LA/Philly or Pitt Baltimore this how they will pay NBC back

    • Walt_Gekko

      Likely the first Saturday and maybe like last year the Divisional game being a Sunday nighter. Lorne Michaels doesn’t like when the NFL causes a new SNL to start late.

      I suspect the NFL is going to have to consider starting the Saturday games one hour earlier (at 3:30 and 7:00 PM ET if NBC’s prime time game is a week of a new Saturday Night Live to best assure SNL starts on time.

      • danderson600

        Likely the reason that the Saturday Night game during Divisional weekend being on CBS- Lorne Michaels doesn’t like when the NFL causes a new SNL to start late.

    • newsball

      nbc couldn’t do a saturday night game this year, as it’s an olympic year, so there likely going to get the best of the two sunday games, as this year is an olympic year o on saturday night there covering the us figure skating championships

      • Dale Moog

        Ok So they will get the Sunday night Games then but still the same great match ups

        • newsball

          No there getting the Sunday early game which for wildcard weekend will likely be the best of the 4,and then likely divisional Rd the Saturday prime time game

  • Jon

    I’m not buying it. The NFL and NBC were in cahoots on this.

    • newsball

      yeah as here’ what they wanted is either the pack to win in week 15 they lost, so the next best thing cowboys, but oh they lost, as outside of jets and bengals, it’s been either the packers or cowboys on the final week of the season as 2011,2012,2013,2014 it was the cowboys the final week of the season, the last years it’s been the pack

  • Walt_Gekko

    What the NFL should do is eliminate this potential problem by starting next season:

    Adding an 18th Week that would give ALL teams a second bye week tied to mid-week games.

    Make the new Week 18 where ALL games in one conference are at 3:00 PM ET and the other conference are at 7:00 PM ET, with all games airing between ALL of the NFL’s broadcast partners (with the DT-2 channels of network affilliates used for overflow games that would usually be the games of least importance). NBC would get the #1 game in each slot the final week with CBS/FOX splitting the #2-#3 games (and their DT-2 channels airing the #7-8 games of importance in each slot), ABC/ESPN splitting the #4-5 games in each slots (ESPN games also airing on ABC’s DT-2 channel) and NFL Network airing the #6 game of importance in each slot (also airing on COZI TV, NBC’s DT-2 channel). This is how it’s done in other pro sports leagues worldwide.

    With NBC no longer having the final game of the regular season to itself, NBC gets a new Wednesday-after-Thanksgiving game tied to the tree lighting in Rockerfeller Plaza (and with the game usually hosted by the Jets and Giants on an alternating basis) to compensate for losing that game. NBC would also for next season only get a Thanksgiving EVE game that starting in 2019 would alternate between CBS and FOX (that would be paired with a new “Black Friday” game that most likely would be a new game in London with a 2:30 PM ET (7:30 PM local time) kickoff that day that would next year air on ESPN in place of a game on Christmas Eve and after that starting in 2019 alternate between CBS and FOX as well).

    That to me would take care of this.

    • Super Mateo

      -The Jets and Giants don’t even play their home games in the state of New York. What benefit would there be in scheduling one at the same time as NY’s tree lighting?
      -The NFL isn’t allowed to schedule games on Black Friday. And I don’t think the players’ union would ever go for a Thanksgiving day flight to London.
      -Week 17 is fine how it is. Thanks for the laughs, though.

      • Walt_Gekko

        The NFL IS ALLOWED to schedule games on “Black Friday” as long as they are BEFORE 6:00 PM Eastern Time. That is why I specifically said a 2:30 PM ET kickoff AND it being a London game (if you want to be careful, you can move that up a half-hour to 2:00 PM ET). The law SPECIFICALLY says you can’t do it between 6:00 PM on Friday and 11:59 PM on Saturday, meaning you CAN have a game in the afternoon on “Black Friday.”

        • David

          Yea, that’s just what the NFL and NBC need.. to put the Giants or Jets on national television. This is ridiculous. Thank you as always for the entertainment value of your musings. And save the reply where it’s “no I really think this could happen.” It won’t. You know it won’t

          • Walt_Gekko

            The Giants were a playoff team last year and were expected to be far better than they were. The Jets likely will also be a good team again sooner than later, especially once Brady and Bellichek retire and the Pats regress. Even with bad Jets and Giants teams hosting, the Wednesday-after-Thanksgiving game likely would be the most watched all regular season as it would bring in casual fans looking to see the tree lighting that would be an extended halftime.

  • RMH

    Funny how this story actually tells the reader nothing.

  • Jon

    NBC may be comped with whatever is the best of the four wild card weekend games for prime time, instead of what normally happens, where they get one of the two least-desirable games, while Fox or CBS gets that weekend’s marquee game for the 4:25 p.m. window on Sunday.

    • newsball

      well and the nfl released the schedule for wildcard weekend nbc getting the early wildcard game sunday which is actually a first and also the fact they weren’t going to get a primetime wildcard game on saturday, because it’s an olympic year so next saturday there carrying the us figure skating championships

  • Biz P

    This article by Ken Fang had a lot of teeth to it

  • newsball

    also the wildcard game nbc is doing this year is on a sunday, as because of ther other contract they have with usoc, so there likely getting the best of the 4 wildcard games which will be at 1 pm et as saturday they carry us figure skating championhips, so there wild card game is sunday, and depending on wheter it’s afc or nfc the late game will be fox or cbs

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