Is the NFL providing too much of a good thing?


The honest answer is a simple one. I’m not sure I know.

What I can tell you that the new scheduling the NFL released for 2012 has me a bit confused about things. Despite the increase in broadcast hours, I already know that I won’t be investing significantly more time during any week watching NFL games than I already do. And yet, I can see where many people will spend more time watching football each week. (At least one more game’s worth of time.)

It is an interesting trend to watch though, and I believe worthy of taking note. Because when the league talks about putting a Super Bowl on an international stage (meaning, perhaps, something like the big game on an overseas field)… and begins scheduling games regularly on another day of the week… well, things are bordering on excessive and potentially dangerous.

Consider… with Thursday no longer a special event day, but a regular part of the schedule, games will be steadily played on three days each week. And, by the end of the regular season, only Tuesday and Friday will not have hosted at least one game. (Yup… there are games planned for a Wednesday and a Saturday.)

And… when I say that this could be dangerous… here’s the problem: whenever you have a successful business, and you are creating a business plan for the future, the fastest way to complete failure is to ignore the reasons you have been successful.

First things first though… we need some history. (At least a little bit.)

If we go back about thirty years, things wouldn’t look too different than they do today. 1pm games… 4pm games… Monday Night Football. Seems very familiar… right?

Be it thirty years ago, or more (or less)… the NFL avoided Saturday games during the college football season. And Thursday games were reserved for Thanksgiving. Again… the odds and ends look and feel the same.

These are important elements to understand though… because if they were taking place today, all of us would normally have access to four NFL games every week. It would consist of three games out of the two Sunday time starts, and then Monday night.

That scheduling leads to the brilliant success of DirecTV and the NFL Sunday Ticket. You got three games on Sunday afternoons and that was it. Toss in football on Mondays, a Thanksgiving Day look at the Lions, and then the playoffs. There were plenty of games to miss.

It was here that America’s Team was made… because the popularity of Dallas put them on television week after week back then, while you weren’t as likely to see the St. Louis Cardinals or Seattle Seahawks.

Thanks to DirecTV, we now get access to those otherwise excluded games. Invest a bit over six hours on a Sunday afternoon and see parts of all the football games being played except for Monday night. Not too bad a deal. No lack of coverage.

Today is different though…

Sunday night games.

And this year, a developing and expanding slate of Thursday contests.

Suddenly DirecTV is charging more and more while in reality delivering less and less. (Don’t believe me… ok…)

In a regular week, the NFL plays 16 games. (32 teams… 16 games.) If we accept that during the 2011 season there were three games available on regular network broadcasts for the 1pm and 4pm games… plus Sunday and Monday night contests… that means last season slightly over 31% of all NFL games are available without DirecTV. (5 games per week.)

Pretty significant percentage. But is it a significant difference than the days gone by? Well…

With the byes each team gets, some weeks there may only be 14 or 15 games. Plus, this year we have more Thursday night games… broadcast on the NFL Network, which isn’t exclusive to DirecTV. So now it isn’t 5 games out of 16 that are available… but quite often 6 out of 14. And that’s almost 43% of a week’s contests.

Personally, I love DirecTV. And I thoroughly enjoyed having Sunday Ticket for several years. But this package became a problem for me in three interesting ways.

First – Remember the Miami Dolphins and hurricanes? In 2005 the weather came into play when a game against Kansas City was moved up. If my memory is accurate… when it was moved, I lost that game from my Sunday Ticket package. Now granted… it was an emergency situation and completely unpredictable. I understand that. (And I didn’t “lose” the game… as DirecTV rebroadcast it during the Sunday slate of games.) I didn’t complain at the time, and I’m not listing it here to complain now. Instead, I feel it is worth noting because roughly 6% to 7% of what I had paid for that week was taken away from me, since I don’t recall it being offered live, and this was the first time something like this had happened to me since I had been enjoying the package. Even the so called “flex scheduling” being used late in each season doesn’t change the live broadcast of games… it is simply a warning that the unexpected, however unlikely, is never impossible.

Second – Yard work. Sundays are a day when I could (and can) get stuff done outside. Given how my work schedule matches up with friends, Sunday is normally the only day for group work on things such as renovating a bathroom or building a shed. Plus I might travel in the fall or winter. We’re talking about my personal schedule, and I started finding myself being away from home or otherwise busy for several Sundays of the NFL season.

Third – The ground I’ve already covered. DirecTV, which I have, offers the NFL Network. The Sunday Ticket package price is right around $300… for the basic subscription. Go ahead… tell me that I can figure out how to log in with something like a password and my laptop, so the Sunday Ticket travels with me. Before you do though, check things out we’ve covered here already… because I explained that these days more than a third of the weekly game action (and for half the year, more than 40%) is available pretty much for free.

Now we get to the really funny part of the upcoming season. If you read the article I linked to earlier (here it is again), you’ll find out that in 2012 the NFL Network plans: “With the exception of a Thanksgiving tripleheader in Week 12 (Nov. 22), NFL Network will air 13 contests between Weeks 2 and 15”… which means (hold on, new paragraph)…

I have laughed in the past when a commercial for the DirecTV baseball package, Extra Innings, would come on. (Now offering up to 80 games each week!) Seriously… what person that isn’t a sports professional has enough time to dedicate to watching that much baseball? Same idea for NBA League Pass or NHL Center Ice programming. Hey… love your favorite sport… love your favorite team… but 80-games per week at 2½ to 3 hours minimum per game is 200 to 240 hours of baseball each week. (Folks… 200 to 240 hours of baseball a week… (1) The actual average is two hours and fifty-plus minutes. (2) There are only 168 hours in a week. I know… I know… you don’t plan to watch every minute of all those games. Still… you need to love baseball to invest yourself in that kind of arrangement.)

Let’s convert the thought back to football.

I loved sitting in front of the television on Sunday around 1pm with some snacks, a notepad, and the remote. I’d flip between games to catch certain teams on offense… when one contest was at halftime and another wasn’t… with teams threatening to score… and so on. Loved it. Had a ball. And I saw way more of each game than you might expect to be possible considering I was changing channels. Those were great afternoons.

And I still sit down on Sundays to watch football. Just not as much need for a remote, since I’ll only be watching at most two games at one time.

Now we’re talking about three evenings in addition to those six afternoon hours. It’s not a Sunday experience… it’s a full-time job. In years when I’ve been able to make weekly picks, I struggled with Thursday night games… the writing of the columns including the research… the delay in getting weekly odds until after the Monday night game was played. And when we had multiple people making picks, it was almost impossible to have all the picks by Thursday’s kick-off.

And when it comes to paying for the coverage, the waters are thinning as well… I’m getting less coverage from what I pay for, and need to invest more time to see it.

I’m just wondering if I’m missing something.

Sure… I will pay attention to several of the Thursday night games. There will undoubtedly be some contests that I’m going to be upset about not being able to watch at home now that I don’t pay for the Sunday Ticket. And I am quite aware there will be an interest level from people.

On the other side though… one of the perfect things about football was that it had a set time frame that needed my attention. Sundays. Maybe add in Sunday and Monday evenings. What we’re seeing now is the first major waves of expansion on that. Changes that truly swerve off the televised history of the NFL as I know it and into new territoty.

I do wonder if we’re reaching a point of overload… where there’s too much of a good thing… where the scales are beginning to tip. And I’m going to place a marker here, in 2012, as the time where those scales began to move in the wrong direction.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at