The NFL is about to begin negotiations with TV networks regarding new TV contracts; obviously, the NFL expects to increase revenue from those sources, and they have a powerful argument on their side of the bargaining table. I read somewhere that for the calendar year 2020, 37 of the biggest TV audiences for televised events were NFL games. To me, that is a sufficiently powerful argument but wait, there’s more… Three of those “biggest TV audiences” were political debates; since there will be no more political debates on TV for the next 4 years, the projected score would be 37 of the largest 47 telecasts (79%) were NFL games.
That just sets the stage. Reports say more specifically that ESPN – – via its parent Disney Corp – – is interested in making a run at Sunday Night Football. At the moment, SNF is a huge bargain; it consistently gets sky-high ratings, and it costs far less than the other TV network deals. ESPN currently has the Monday Night Football deal; rather than focusing on getting some other part of the NFL TV package, I think that ESPN needs first to get a new bargaining team on their side. I will not pretend to know all of the provisions of the various NFL TV contracts in place now, but there are some glaring items there which tell me that ESPN did a bad job getting the MNF package last time around. Consider:
- Super Bowl telecasts: ESPN gets none as part of the MNF package; NBC is “in the rotation” to telecast Super Bowl games along with FOX and CBS. Clearly this is an advantage for NBC.
- Playoff telecasts: ESPN gets to show one playoff game; NBC gets to show two playoff games thanks to the new expanded playoff structure this year. Obviously, NBC has the advantage here.
- Scheduling: ESPN has a fixed slate of games set in stone when the NFL schedule is released sometime in the Spring; NBC enjoys flex-scheduling for some games meaning they can swap-out a “Dog-Breath Game” for a more interesting game as the season unfolds. For the networks, better games lead to better ratings lead to higher charges to advertisers for time slots during the telecast.
I hope it would not take me long to convince you that NBC has the advantage in all three areas noted above. Now consider the critical element of the SNF and the MNF deals that leads me to conclude that ESPN needs better folks negotiating for them this time around:
- Cost: NBC pays the NFL $950M a year for Sunday Night Football with those 3 items noted above. ESPN pays the NFL $2B a year for Monday Night Football with those 3 items noted above.
It seems to me that SNF will always enjoy the advantage of flex-scheduling over MNF. In addition to the logistical burden placed on two visiting teams to adjust travel and accommodation plans from Sunday to Monday or vice-versa, changing the date of two games will impose problems for fans with tickets to the games. Changing a game from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night can be a problem for some fans; there is no question about that; changing the date of two games from Sunday to Monday or Monday to Sunday is going to impose a larger burden on a larger number of fans. TV is the big moneymaker, but the NFL does not want to serially piss off the fans who show up at the game venues; owners really do like the revenue that game attendance provides. I could be wrong, but I do not expect the next MNF deal to include flex-scheduling.
However, if SNF continues to hold onto the other advantages it now enjoys with regard to playoff and Super Bowl telecasts, I would expect the cost of SNF to go through the roof and the cost of MNF to increase only slightly from its present level.
It is important to note that Disney Corp also owns ABC. So, it is possible that ABC could enter the bidding for one or both of the Sunday afternoon packages now held by CBS and FOX. There are lots of moving parts here and formal negotiations have not yet begun, but this is a subject that should be interesting to watch.
While on the topic of ESPN, the radio arm of ESPN did a major shake-up of its programming about 3 months ago. Two of the programs in the mid-day/early afternoon time slots are now manned by “known quantities” in Mike Greenberg and Max Kellerman. Frankly, I like both programs for different reasons. Mike Greenberg’s program is a leisurely paced program where interviews with guests are actual discussions on a sports topic. Too many sports radio interviews are transparently a situation where the host lobs softball questions at a guest who has pre-formed answers for the questions. That is not the case with Greenberg and his guests; those interviews are interesting.
Max Kellerman may be the most under-appreciated person at ESPN. He is smart; he is opinionated without being obnoxious; he is analytical and rational. Even when you disagree with one of his positions, you think about what he has said because you recognize that it is not just some “hot-take” that he concocted to try to attract interest to his program.
The new program on ESPN Radio that I still have not decided that I like or dislike is the morning-drivetime program featuring Keyshawn Johnson, Jay Williams and Zubin Mehenti. Sometimes these guys are entertaining; sometimes these guys are almost cringeworthy.
- Keyshawn Johnson: Wherever she may be in the cosmos, my 12th grade English teacher who graduated from Mount Holyoke must get an electric shock traversing her nervous system at least 5 times an hour when Keyshawn mangles English grammar and syntax. I mentioned above that Max Kellerman rarely resorts to “hot-takes”; Keyshawn seems to love to wade into that pool of thinking.
- Jay Williams: His wheelhouse – obviously – is college basketball and to a lesser extent the NBA. When the subject is football or baseball, I sometimes wonder if Williams took off his headset, left the set and got himself a smoothie. He had some interesting things to say about the NBA playoffs but on other topics he is almost a “no-show”.
- Zubin Mehenti: If you could build a rocket ship that ran on enthusiasm and you put Zubin Mehenti on that ship, you would have the makings of an interstellar transportation vehicle. Here is the issue; some mornings when I get up and decide to turn on the radio, I am not ready for high energy radio that borders on cheerleading. Other mornings, that sort of assault on my senses is refreshing.
Here is what I think is the essential difference between the “morning guys” and the “early afternoon guys” on ESPN Radio:
- Keyshawn, Jay and Zubin are often entertaining. When they are annoying, I just turn off the radio
- Mike Greenberg and Max Kellerman are usually entertaining AND they are informative at the same time. That is the standard the “morning guys” need to achieve much more regularly.
Finally, Dwight Perry had this observation in the Seattle Times regarding the analytics-driven removal of Blake Snell from Game 6 of the World Series that sparked yesterday’s rant:
“Look at the bright side of Blake Snell’s premature exit from Game 6, Rays fans:
“When he pitches the 2021 season opener next April 1, he’ll be working on 156 days’ rest — not to mention 2 or 3 bonus innings of nonwear and tear.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………