Jameis Winston plays for the Saints against the Vikings. Nov 12, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) throws a pass against the Minnesota Vikings during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

There have long been some unfortunate transitions between early NFL games that run long and the late afternoon games getting started. NFL broadcasting rules often see networks having to show late games right from the 4:25 p.m. ET start. That’s true especially in those teams’ particular territories, even when that gets in the way of a dramatic finish.

The latest case where that happened was with the New Orleans Saints – Minnesota Vikings game Sunday. There, with the Saints driving down eight with six seconds left, Jameis Winston’s potentially-game tying Hail Mary (which wound up in a game-sealing interception) was skipped on some Fox affiliates.

In Beaumont, Texas, the game feed was cut right as Winston was about to throw, with the feed going to a commercial for FS1’s Undisputed at 4:24:32 Eastern. That then led to further commercials, and to the feed returning ahead of the New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys game, where the teams lined up for the kickoff at 4:26:40 Eastern and the kick was made 11 seconds later. Here’s the cut to the Undisputed commercial:

This particular move wasn’t a wide one. As per JP Kirby’s maps at The 506, most of Texas saw the San Francisco 49ers-Jacksonville Jaguars game early, and that game wrapped up in plenty of time to get to Giants-Cowboys ahead of kickoff. Only parts of eastern Texas closer to the Saints got this game, and many of the other markets showing Saints-Vikings (including Shreveport, LA, New Orleans, LA, and Little Rock, AR) showed this play to its end before heading to commercial despite them also having Giants-Cowboys next. (But they’re not in the Cowboys’ local specific area, so the rules for them are a little different, and they got to the Cowboys’ game slightly late.)

This also isn’t necessarily an avoidable cut to commercial. Rob Tornoe wrote about something similar happening for The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2018, where Philadelphia’s Fox affiliate cut away from a Giants-Carolina Panthers game in the final six seconds (ahead of Graham Gano’s record-setting 63-yard field goal) to show two minutes of commercials before the kickoff of the Eagles’ national Fox game against the Minnesota Vikings. (That day also saw CBS cut away from a Cleveland Browns-Baltimore Ravens game with three-plus minutes left in overtime to preserve Fox’s late window, with CBS studio figures describing some of the ending there.) Some key quotes from Tornoe’s piece there, including from a Fox spokesperson who discussed how they couldn’t reduce ads because those ads are sold to the local affiliates:

Because FOX29 is the home market station for the Eagles, the network airs every second of every Eagles game it shows. That means if the early game is running late, the network will cut away to show the entire Eagles game, even if it means missing a great ending, like Sunday’s Giants-Panthers finish.

“At the end of every game window there’s a 2 minute local break. Because it’s local it’s not really our time to manipulate,” a spokesman for Fox Sports told the Inquirer and Daily News in a statement. “We pulled out at the last possible moment to get that break in and still make it to kickoff of the Eagles game.”

Philadelphia wasn’t the only area impacted by the NFL’s broadcast rules on Sunday. Because Vikings-Eagles on FOX was the exclusive national afternoon game, thousands of fans watching the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens saw CBS cut away with 3:22 remaining in overtime to the network’s post-game show, where the hosts were forced to describe the action to viewers.

And those 2018 incidents were just one of the many cases where early cuts away from dramatic action have happened over the years. And Sunday’s situation is just the latest there. But while this has been well-established as a precedent at this point, it is an awkward situation. And it’s not particularly great as a reflection of the NFL’s overall broadcasting setup. But there hasn’t been any indication these NFL rules and network ad sales approaches will change any time soon, so we’re likely to see this happen again.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.