Two running themes of the NFL in recent decades are the desire to make as much as possible into TV content, and the desire to distribute that content as broadly as possible. There are lots of examples of the everything-is-content approach, with properties from the NFL combine to Super Bowl opening night to (and especially) the NFL draft getting heavy television presences, and the draft is an example of that distribution push as well, with coverage across multiple networks (including broadcast ABC, and broadcast Fox before that) and streaming platforms.
The recent emphasis on getting the draft broadcast TV coverage is also applicable to other NFL endeavors. And that would seem to have a lot to do with the news Tuesday that the league is going to have some schedule details revealed on the general morning shows on ABC, CBS and Fox News, long before the evening schedule release specials on NFL Network (simulcast on FS1) and ESPN2 (ESPN will air three different flavors of schedule release special across ESPN2 and streaming platforms). It’s not yet clear if NBC will join this with news on Today, but reports on their Week 1 Sunday Night matchup (Bears-Rams) have already emerged. Here’s the news on ABC, CBS and Fox from Ben Fischer and John Ourand of Sports Business Journal:
News: nearly 12 hours before the official NFL schedule release, Disney’s Good Morning America will be allowed to announce the Week One “Monday Night Football” matchup tomorrow morning.
— Ben Fischer (@BenFischerSBJ) May 11, 2021
And CBS, too, will announce it's Week 1 NFL schedule Wednesday morning on "CBS This Morning."
I'm noticing a trend here! https://t.co/r3xTutzwqn
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) May 11, 2021
— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) May 11, 2021
It’s understandable that the NFL wants to get its schedule release as much coverage as possible, and these morning shows have significant audiences, so working with them makes some sense. It’s also somewhat understandable why these morning shows would do this. For one, the bar of much of what appears on these shows often isn’t really hard news; a lot of it’s human-interest stories, or entertainment news, or (in the case of Fox News) if horses are now victims of “cancel culture.” For another thing, these networks all just signed big rights extensions with the NFL, and they’re eager to promote their particular NFL game windows and schedules, so there’s some logic to throwing that into a quick segment (presumably) on their highly-viewed morning shows. And this also lets the NFL point at itself and say “Look at how we made the morning shows in the middle of May!,” and lets those individual shows point at themselves and say “Look at the news we had first!”
There’s also maybe some logic to doing this this year in particular. What’s really notable about the NFL schedule release is when each game is set for; the teams each team is going to face are already known. This year, with anticipated lower pandemic restrictions by the fall given U.S. vaccination progress, there may be a lot of people looking forward to going to NFL games in person again, and many of them may be trying to make arrangements around specific individual games. So the particular schedule maybe matters a little bit more.
There is a tradeoff to consider here, though. The more you play up these individual reveals of early information, the less actually will still be unknown by the time your primetime specials hit. Now, that’s probably a tradeoff somewhat worth taking; a lot of (if not all of) the information always leaks through various local and national reporters before these specials anyway, and yet plenty of people still watch. And early revelations of Week 1 matchups on morning TV probably aren’t too likely to dramatically change that calculus of how many people watch the primetime specials. But this does take a little bit more away from the schedule release specials.
[John Ourand on Twitter]