Here’s why the NFL should skip Sunday night playoff games – Yahoo Sports
The NFL ratings were predictably massive, particularly the 48.5 million who tuned into Sunday’s Green Bay-Dallas game.
By way of comparison, that’s eight million more than the historic and thrilling Chicago Cubs-Cleveland Indians World Series Game 7 and 18 million more than the historic and equally thrilling Cleveland-Golden State NBA Finals Game 7.
The Packers and Cowboys game was not a Super Bowl. It was the second round. The Super Bowl will do 110-120 million viewers. The National Football League is a television dynamo unto itself.
Which is why the ratings for the other playoff game are concerning, and not in the usual way, but in a potentially related way.
An audience of 37.1 million watched the Pittsburgh-Kansas City divisional round game Sunday night (just below Cubs-Indians, higher than Cavs-Warriors).
NBC spun it as the most ever for a prime-time divisional round game. That’s in part because it was a good, competitive game. That’s in part because Green Bay-Dallas delivered an immense “lead-in” – different network, but nearly 50 million football fans just a channel change away.
And, most likely, because this was the first Sunday night prime-time game – all previous ones have been on Saturday.
The Steelers-Chiefs was originally scheduled for a 1 p.m. ET kick. The game was moved to 8:20 p.m. ET because of an ice storm that hit Kansas City. The NFL was concerned about fans getting to the stadium and didn’t want to further tax already stressed emergency personnel. It was the right call.
Sunday night delivers ratings, even on a holiday weekend. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” slate of games is annually the No. 1 television show in the country. Prime time works, which is one reason why ESPN is reporting the NFL is already considering putting more playoff games on Sunday night. The league is known to chase the easy gold – and pile it up. So maybe this is the future.
Here’s some unsolicited and sure-to-be-ignored advice to the NFL: Don’t do it.
“Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered,” Mark Cuban, the billionaire entrepreneur, NBA owner and “Shark Tank” reality-show star said in 2014 about the NFL. “Just watch – when you try to take it too far, people turn the other way. I’m just telling you, when you’ve got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns on you. That’s rule No. 1 of business.”
Cuban was mocked when he originally said this, hailed as an NBA guy jealous of NFL success. As football ratings began to slip this year, his words began looking clairvoyant.
And make no mistake: Playoff games on Sunday night are pig-fattening moments.
Yes, more people might watch, because more people watch TV at night than the day. That isn’t always true – Packers-Cowboys kicked off at 4:40 p.m. ET. However, you can’t always count on two major teams playing a back-and-forth thriller.
The question is not just how many people are watching at night, but what people are watching. Namely, could it create any future impact on the NFL’s ratings juggernaut? It’s not so much more or less of an audience as it is a different audience, the diversity of the audience creating fans who will come together for the biggest of games.
One of the strengths of football is that so many of its most important games are played during weekend afternoons/early evenings. That’s when families can gather, and when those that are older or have to work early don’t have to stay up way past their bedtime to watch the end of the game. You have multigenerational viewers, including, most importantly, kids.
The more games are played during the day, the more young people can watch the entire game and become enthralled in the sport. Seeing Aaron Rodgers complete a pass on third-and-20 with three seconds remaining can stick with you for a lifetime. How many of those same young people were sent to bed long before the Steelers-Chiefs played to the final minute?
The average 10-year-old baseball fan (at least outside of the West Coast) didn’t see the end of Cubs-Indians. It was the same for the NBA Finals. The games are on too late. The games are always on too late – every World Series and NBA Finals contest is played in prime time.
The NFL has loved regular-season night games for decades, but there are just three windows for games in what is often a 16-game weekend slate. In the playoffs, there are but two prime-time games (Saturday night) in an 11-game (Super Bowl included) package. You want to watch, bedtime isn’t the issue.
It’s about the last sports league that chases the long game over the short-term ratings point. It certainly isn’t the only, or even one of the most significant, reasons why the NFL is the most popular sports operation in America. It also can’t be a coincidence, either.
There is also the added benefit to European fans, which the NFL has spent considerable time and resources trying to cultivate (a record four games will be played in London next year). The classic 1 p.m. ET Sunday start is early evening in England. That Steelers-Chiefs game went off in the middle of the night.
So many American sports have abandoned earlier times, especially for games that matter, that it doesn’t even register when the NFL plays on Sunday night. Sports executives long ago stopped caring.
Even college football puts a premium on the late Saturday night game, and staged a marathon championship game that didn’t end until well after midnight on a weekday on the East Coast. So many potential young, and working, fans missed a classic.
The NFL has the resources and resolve to continue to buck the trend and stick with what got it here. It doesn’t need to chase prime-time audiences in the postseason. It’s better off staying the course, realizing that day games work in different ways, and understanding the fan base it is trying to build requires serving different age groups via different viewing windows.
It needs to be the pig that skips a feeding and say no to Sunday night playoff games.
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