CBS and Fox enter the new NFL media contract with some new strength. Under the new rules for flex scheduling, CBS and Fox can now protect one game a week to prevent NBC and ESPN from taking one of their glamor matchups. Under the previous contract, CBS and Fox could only protect a small amount of games and they had to choose them early in the season. Now, this allows Sunday afternoon games that are earmarked for the late windows to stay there.
Traditionally, the 4:25 p.m. window has the highest viewership and ratings so Fox, which wants to showcase the Dallas Cowboys as many times as possible, will likely exercise their rights to keep America’s Team there. Subsequently, CBS would want to have the Kansas City Chiefs in that late window.
During a conference call, Mike North, NFL Vice President of Broadcast Planning noted the new rules for Sunday afternoons, “As we get later into the season, each week before we even begin to talk about should we look at flexing Sunday night, should we look at flexing Monday night, CBS and Fox will each get to protect one game each weekend. And that’s more than what they had in the old deal.”
So this means that NBC or ESPN won’t necessarily get the best game of the week flexed into primetime. “You should be looking at the 2nd best or maybe the 3rd best game on a Sunday afternoon which you could make a case is a good thing for our fans,” North said. “If you’re the 3rd best game on a Sunday afternoon, you might be only available in 15 or 20 percent of the country and these could be two teams that are playing for playoff spots and playoff positionings.”
North added that moving the 2nd or 3rd best matchup of the week actually rewards those two teams that have played themselves into primetime and the league can move a game that looked compelling earlier into the season out of the evening time slot.
As for the selection process for games for CBS and Fox, there’s a minimum amount of games that are required to keep the conference lines for each network. There are a few anomalies, CBS will actually air seven games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Washington Commanders while the Houston Texans will appear on Fox six times, but overall, the conference lines for the AFC on CBS and the NFC on Fox remain intact.
In this video, North explains a little bit of the process in producing the NFL regular season schedule:
Meet the man behind the NFL schedule for the last 28 seasons: Mike North ?️ pic.twitter.com/llxAZ2nzk9
— NFL (@NFL) May 12, 2023
This season, there will be three “side-by-side” weeks for Monday Night Football where ESPN and ABC will both air a game. In Weeks 2 and 3, there will be games at 7:15 p.m. ET and 8:15 p.m. but ABC and ESPN will alternate the early games in consecutive weeks. And in the third side-by-side window in Week 14, both games will start at 8:15 p.m. North said this is a bit of experimentation and they want the fans to let them know which works best. North did not rule out a return to a doubleheader at 7 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. as ESPN had in the first week of the season for many years.
Those who worked on the schedule since January can now relax. It’s now up to the players and coaches to do the planning for the games and we can’t wait for the first regular season kickoff in September.