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The television rights to broadcast National Football League (NFL) games are the most lucrative and expensive rights of any American sport. It was television that brought Professional Football into prominence in the modern era of technology. Since then, NFL broadcasts have become among the most-watched programs on American television, and the fortunes of entire networks have rested on owning NFL broadcasting rights. This has raised questions about the impartiality of the networks' coverage of games.

Currently, three American terrestrial television networks CBS ($3.73B), NBC ($3.6B) and Fox ($4.27B), as well as cable television's ESPN ($8.8B) are paying a combined total of $20.4 billion[1] to broadcast NFL games through the 2011 season for CBS, Fox, and NBC and through 2013 for ESPN. However, the league imposes several strict television policies to ensure that stadiums are filled and sold out,[2][3][4] to maximize TV ratings, and to help leverage content on these networks. League-owned NFL Network, on cable television, broadcasts 8 games per season nationally.

NFL preseason telecasts are more in line with the other major sports leagues' regular season telecasts, in that preseason games are more locally-produced telecasts, usually by a local affiliate of one of the above terrestrial television networks. Some preseason games will air nationally, however.

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Current broadcasting contracts

The TV rights to the NFL are the most lucrative and expensive rights of not only any American sport, but any American entertainment property. With the fragmentation of audiences due to the increased specialization of broadcast and cable TV networks, sports remain one of the few entertainment properties that not only can guarantee a large and diversified audience, but an audience that will watch in real time.

Annually, the Super Bowl often ranks among the most watched shows of the year. Four of Nielsen Media Research's top 10 programs of all time are Super Bowls [5]. Networks have purchased a share of the broadcasting rights to the NFL as a means of raising the entire network's profile.[6]

Under the current television contracts, which began during the 2006 season, regular season games are broadcast on five networks: CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN, and The NFL Network.

Sunday regional games

Under the current contracts, the regional Sunday afternoon games (1 p.m. "early" and 4 p.m. "late" games) are broadcast on CBS and Fox. CBS holds what is generally called the AFC package (AFC away games), and Fox holds what is referred to as the NFC package (NFC away games).

The "AFC package" for CBS is summarized as the following:

  • Sunday afternoon AFC intra-conference games (AFC at AFC)
  • Sunday afternoon interconference away games (AFC at NFC)

The "NFC package" for Fox is summarized as the following:

  • Sunday afternoon NFC intra-conference games (NFC at NFC)
  • Sunday afternoon interconference away games (NFC at AFC)

In 1970, when the NFL and AFL merged, and home blackouts were put into place for AFC games (the AFL had lifted these during its run), this assured that all Sunday afternoon road games would be seen on the same network. The current package allows both CBS and Fox access to every stadium/market in the league for at least two games per season (unless an interconference game is chosen as a primetime national game). In 2003, both Miami's home games against NFC teams were televised in primetime, a rare exception which prevented Fox from airing a game from Pro Player Stadium that season.

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Doubleheaders and singleheaders

Three games (with some contractual exceptions, see below) are broadcast in any one market each Sunday afternoon, with one network getting a "doubleheader" each week:

  • A 1:00 p.m. ET (10:00 a.m. PT) game and a 4:15 p.m. ET (1:15 p.m. PT) game

While the other network broadcasting either:

  • A 1:00 p.m. ET (10:00 a.m. PT) game
  • Or a 4:05 p.m. ET (1:05 p.m. PT) game

4:05 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. games predominantly, but not exclusively, take place in the Mountain and Pacific time zones.

Since 1998, "early" games have the precise, official start time of 1:01 p.m. Eastern,[7] which allows for one network commercial and the NFL broadcast copyright teaser animation. However, game times are generally advertised simply as top of the hour. In addition, the league revised the "late" games to start at 4:05 p.m. ET if it was part of a "singleheader," and to start at 4:15 p.m. ET if it was part of a "doubleheader." The additional 15 minutes for doubleheaders allowed the early games extra time to be played to completion, and avoid running over into the late game's kickoff. For singleheader games, only 5 minutes were added, to allow the network time for a short intro (since three hours had passed since the pregame show has aired), and one commercial break before kickoff. In those cases, there is no need to avoid early-game overlap, since there is no early game shown in that instance. In addition, it allows those games to end earlier, on average.

During the first sixteen weeks of the schedule, both Fox and CBS are given eight doubleheaders apiece. The two networks alternate doubleheaders, but not necessarily week-in and week-out. For example, in early October, CBS typically airs two or three consecutive double-header weekends, while Fox opts for single-headers those weeks due to their concurrent coverage of the baseball playoffs. Due to CBS' annual coverage of the U.S. Open, Fox normally has had exclusive double-header coverage of opening weekend since 1998. This means that the three AFC West teams in the Mountain or Pacific time zones – Denver, Oakland and San Diego – cannot play at home during the opening weekend, unless they are hosting an NFC opponent (which would be aired by Fox) or scheduled in primetime (regardless of opponent).

Starting in 2006, both networks air a double-header in week 17.[8][9]

The NFL rules prohibit other NFL games from being shown on local television stations while a local team is playing a sold-out home game. The rules are designed to make sure ticket-holders show up at the stadium instead of watching the other game on TV.

When the home team is being shown on the network with the NFL singleheader, the doubleheader station can only air one of its games. So when this happens, there are only two games shown in the market. When, however, the home team is being shown on the network with the NFL doubleheader, all three games can air in the market.[10]

National games

National broadcasts of marquee match-ups occur on Sunday and Monday nights. Later in the season Thursday night games are added and broadcast on the NFL Network. After the completion of the college football season, Saturday night games are added as well and are broadcasted by the networks with the AFC & NFC packages. NBC has broadcast rights to Sunday night games. These are broadcast under a special "flexible schedule" (see below) that allows Sunday afternoon games late in the season to be moved to primetime. NBC also has broadcast rights to the opening night Kickoff game (see below).

Other regular season nationally-televised games include the kickoff game and games on Thanksgiving. Afternoon Thanksgiving games, and afternoon Saturday games, mirror the aforementioned AFC and NFC packages. AFC away games are on CBS and NFC away games are on FOX. Since Detroit and Dallas (the traditional hosts of Thanksgiving Day games) are both NFC teams, one of the two games must be an intra-conference game, and one must be an interconference game. That provides one game for FOX and one game for CBS, respectively.

Monday Night Football is currently aired on ESPN. NFL Network broadcasts Thursday and occasional Saturday night games, including a Thanksgiving primetime game.

Certain Sunday afternoon "late" games can also be considered nationally televised. A marquee matchup at 4 p.m. is sometimes carried in every (or nearly every) market in that timeslot, and thus available to a wide national audience.

As the NFL Network is not available on basic cable, games on NFL Network are also broadcast on local networks in the two teams' local markets, but not elsewhere. This led to controversy in 2007, when the New England Patriots were scheduled to play the New York Giants in Giants Stadium in their regular season finale on the NFL Network, in what turned out to be a chance to complete the first 16–0 season in NFL history. After the Senate Judiciary Committee threatened the NFL's antitrust exemption if it did not make the game available nationwide, the NFL ultimately relented, and made the game the first game in NFL history to be simulcast on three networks; it aired on the NFL Network, as planned; on NBC, which would normally have the rights to primetime games; and, since the away team was an AFC team, on CBS.[11]

NFL Sunday Ticket

Satellite broadcast company DirecTV offers NFL Sunday Ticket, a subscription-based package, that allows all Sunday afternoon regional games to be watched. The only exception is that Sunday Ticket is subject to the same blackout rules as broadcast networks.[12][13] This package is exclusive to DirecTV in the USA. In Canada, NFL Sunday Ticket is available on a per-provider distribution deal on both cable and satellite because Canadian law generally prevents one provider from offering a package on an exclusive basis.

Television policies

The NFL imposes several television and blackout policies to maximize TV ratings and to ensure that stadiums are filled and sold out for these games.

Sunday regional coverage

Regular season Sunday afternoon games (1 p.m. "early" and 4 p.m. "late") aired on CBS and Fox are distributed to affiliates by means of regional coverage. Each individual games is only broadcast to selected media markets.

Several factors determined which games are carried in each market. Each of the 32 NFL teams is assigned a "primary market." Generally, games are aired in the primary market as follows:

  • All away games are aired in the primary market. This is a gesture to old policies based on the ability for fans to attend games. Away games were looked upon as too difficult to attend.
  • All sold-out home games are aired in the primary market. Games which do not sell out at least 72 hours prior to kickoff are subject to local blackout. (see below)

Each team has a selected number of secondary markets, which follow similar rules to the primaries. Secondary markets are usually large non-NFL cities, nearby to an NFL club. Small markets which have no clubs tend to loosely associate with geographically-nearby or particularly relevant teams, which for instance, might feature popular players from the area.

Mid-game switches

During the afternoon games, CBS and Fox may switch a market's game to a more competitive one, particularly when a contest becomes lopsided. For this to occur, one team must be ahead by at least 18 points in the second half.

Due to the "Heidi Game", a primary media market must show its local team's game in its entirety, and secondary markets usually follow suit for road games. Also, secondary markets (for home games) or any others where one team's popularity stands out may request a constant feed of that game, and in that case will not be switched.

If the local team is scheduled for the "late" game of a doubleheader, it has importance over any "early" game. If 4:15 p.m. arrives, and the "early" game is still ongoing, the primary affiliate (all games) and secondary affiliates (road games) are required to cut off the early game and switch to the kickoff of the local team's game.

When a local team plays the "early" game of a doubleheader, that game holds importance over any "late" game. If the local team's early game runs beyond 4:15 p.m., the primary and secondary markets stay on until completion, and the "late" game is joined in-progress.

Shared media markets

For this reason, if two teams share a primary media market, their games are never scheduled on the same network on the same day (unless they play each other). Otherwise, the networks could theoretically have to cut away from one team's game to show the other team. Currently two pairs of teams are affected by this rule, and are subject to additional rules described below:

Giants and Jets

In general, the league never schedules the Giants and the Jets to play their games at the same time (except for a head-to-head meeting). The league allowed two exceptions in the 2009 NFL season, however. At 1 p.m. on September 27, the Jets hosted the Tennessee Titans at Giants Stadium, while the Giants played at Tampa Bay. The Titans-Jets game was originally scheduled for 4:15 p.m., but Jets owner Woody Johnson requested a change due to the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday beginning at sundown.[14] Another exemption was granted at 1 p.m. on November 1, when the Jets hosted the Miami Dolphins and the Giants played at Philadelphia. The Giants-Eagles game was originally scheduled for 4:15 p.m, but the NFL cited a potential conflict with Game 4 of a World Series involving the Philadelphia Phillies (the Phillies play across the street from the Eagles and hosted Game 4 of the World Series that night, coincidentally against another New York team, the Yankees), as well as a desire for more markets to watch longtime Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre return to Lambeau Field for the first time as a member of the Minnesota Vikings.[15] These exceptions marked the first times since 1984 that the Giants and Jets played games simultaneously.[16]

49ers and Raiders

The 49ers and Raiders are usually not scheduled at the same time, though this can mean one of those teams will play a road game at 10:00 a.m. PT. To alleviate the conflicts, the 49ers and/or Raiders will typically be scheduled for additional primetime game(s), regardless of their records during the previous season.[17] An exception was granted during the 2009 NFL season when the 49ers played the Eagles in Philadelphia and the Raiders played the Broncos in Denver on December 20. The 49ers were originally scheduled to play against the Eagles in the early time slot and the Raiders would play the Broncos in the late time slot. But a severe snowstorm in the Philadelphia area forced the 49ers-Eagles game to be moved to the late time slot.

  • The 49ers or Raiders must have at least one primetime game under current television rules, in order to circumvent the television blackout schedule.
  • The Raiders' two interconference home games (i.e., with a visiting NFC team) are televised by Fox (unless they are primetime). These games must be 4 p.m. ET ("late") games, as they are played on the west coast. By rule, the 49ers can not play a 4 p.m. ET ("late") game at the same time on CBS or Fox. Nor can they play a 1 p.m. ET ("early") game on Fox when the Raiders are at home on Fox when Fox has the singleheader game.
    • The only window that would be available for the 49ers in that situation would be a 1 p.m. ("early") game on CBS. However, the only two games which the 49ers are on CBS are interconference home games. All home games in San Francisco must be 4 p.m. ET ("late") games. Therefore, a conflict is found in both cases.
    • One conflict can be cured by scheduling the Raiders' home game during the 49ers' bye week. The second conflict would have to be cured by scheduling the 49ers in primetime (or on Thanksgiving).

The NFL avoided conflicts in 2009 by using both options listed in the second scenario above. Oakland's home game vs. the Philadelphia Eagles was scheduled for San Francisco's bye week, and the home game with the Washington Redskins was scheduled during a week the 49ers played on Monday Night Football at home vs. the Arizona Cardinals. Conversely, the 49ers' home game with the Tennessee Titans was scheduled during Oakland's bye week, and the home date with the Jacksonville Jaguars was scheduled when the Raiders played the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving. In 2010, the 49ers will host the Denver Broncos and Raiders, while the Raiders will host the St. Louis Rams and the Seattle Seahawks. With the 49ers-Broncos game being played in London on October 31, the game will be in the early time slot, something that is not allowed if that game were played in San Francisco. The Raiders are expected to host the Rams or Seahawks on that day, which would mark the first time ever that the 49ers played on CBS and the Raiders played on Fox on the same day.

  • The 49ers' two interconference home games also create conflicts in the opposite direction.
  • This above requirement does not exist for the Giants and Jets. Both of those teams can play home games in either time slot: 1 p.m. ("early") or 4 p.m. ("late"), because they are in the Eastern time zone. However, the same conflict presented by the interconference home games still exists as having one team play a home interconference game would force the other team to also play a home interconference game during the same day. Since they play in the same stadium, it is impossible for one team to play a home game in the early time slot and for the other to play their home game in the late time slot.

The often complicated television package is a significant factor in why the NFL schedule for a particular season takes several weeks to develop.

Other exceptions

The same principles which apply to the New York and San Francisco markets were also in effect when the Rams and Raiders shared the Los Angeles market from 1982–94. Like San Francisco, this often meant the Rams or Raiders would be scheduled for a 10 a.m. PT start when on the road.

The Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens are served by separate media markets, and so they can play at the same time. However, if one team is at home and the other is on the road, both games have aired in each market on a few occasions. However, this policy is not consistently applied in each city.

Sunday bonus coverage

When a media market's regionally televised game ends before the others, the network (CBS or Fox) may switch to "bonus coverage" of the ending of another game. However, the league imposes a couple of restrictions that are designed to maximize the TV ratings of the late games on the doubleheader network, which tend to record the most NFL viewers during the day (often beating the audience for Sunday night games).

First, bonus coverage offered after any early time slot games cannot be shown past the start of the late time slot (either 4:10 ET for the doubleheader network or 4:15 ET for the non-doubleheader network). This prevents people from continuing to watch the bonus coverage instead of seeing the beginning of the late doubleheader network's game (which is usually either their local team or the network's featured game). Again, the networks may show highlights of the game after the fact, and usually will at the earliest convenience. The single-header network will sometimes show each play as soon as it ends as part of its post-game show. Of course, any station originally getting the game featured during bonus coverage will stay with it unless they are leaving to show a local team.

Second, bonus coverage cannot be shown after a late game on the single-game network because it will run in opposition to the ending of the late doubleheader network's game(s) and NBC's pre-game show. However, the single-game network usually schedules most of its top games in the early 1:00 ET time slot (except for West Coast teams' home games, and possibly either a Giants or Jets game), so this does not tend to be a major issue.

If the doubleheader network's games all finish before 7:30 ET, it is supposed to conclude the post-game show within 10 minutes to protect NBC's pre-game show. If any games finish after 7:30, the post-game can run until 8:00 ET. However, this restriction seems to apply to game footage only; on several occasions Fox has run its post-game to 8:00, despite all games ending before 7:30, by airing only panel discussions and interviews in the latter portion of the show. On the other hand, CBS rarely airs any post-game show after its doubleheaders or 4:05 single-games. This is because 60 Minutes is one of its signature shows, and CBS makes every effort to start it as close to 7:00 (its traditional airtime) as possible. The rule generally seems targeted at Fox, which heavily promotes its The OT show to compete with NBC.

Local simulcasting of cable games

To maximize TV ratings, as well as protect the NFL's ability to sell TV rights collectively, games televised on ESPN or the NFL Network are simulcast on a local broadcast station in each of the primary markets of both teams (the Green Bay Packers have two primary markets, Green Bay and Milwaukee, a remnant of when the Packers played some home games in Milwaukee each season, see below). However, the home team's market can only air the game if it is sold out within 72 hours of kick-off (see below).

Flexible-scheduling

Since the 2006 season, the NFL has used a "flexible-scheduling" system for the last seven weeks of the regular season where there is a Sunday night game. The system is designed so that the league has the flexibility in selecting games to air on Sunday night that will feature a more even or intriguing contest as well as make it possible for teams to play their way into primetime.

Under the system, most Sunday games in the affected weeks in the Eastern and Central time zones will tentatively have the start time of 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT). Those played in the Mountain or Pacific time zones will have the tentative start time of 4:05/4:15 p.m. ET (1:05/1:15 p.m. PT). Also, there will be one game provisionally slotted into the 8:15 p.m. ET slot. On the Tuesday twelve days before the games (possibly sooner), the league will move one game to the prime-time slot (or keep its original choice), and possibly move one or more 1 p.m. slotted games to the 4 p.m. slot. During the last week of the season, the league could re-schedule games as late as six days before the contests so that as many of the television networks as possible will be able to broadcast a game that has major playoff implications.

Fox and CBS may each protect five games for the 1 p.m. or 4 p.m. slot. However, they may not protect more than one game per week, and can not protect any games in week 17. All games in the final week of the season are subject to being moved to 8:15 p.m. Individual teams may make no more than four appearances on NBC during the season. Only three teams may make as many as six prime-time appearances (Sunday night, Monday night, and Thursday night combined).[18] The remaining teams may make a maximum of five prime-time appearances. In addition, there are no restrictions amongst intra-division games being "flexed."

Blackout policies

Since 1973, the NFL has maintained a blackout policy that states that a home game cannot be televised locally if it is not sold out within 72 hours prior to its start time. Prior to 1973, all games were blacked out in their city of origin regardless of whether they were sold out. This policy, dating back to the NFL's emerging years on television, resulted in home-city blackouts that even extended to championship games. For instance, the 1958 "Greatest Game Ever Played" between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants was not available on TV to New York fans despite the fact that tickets were sold out. Similarly, all Super Bowl games prior to Super Bowl VII were blacked out in the host city's market.

Although that policy was successfully defended in court numerous times, Congress passed legislation requiring the NFL to impose the 72-hour deadline (see above). The league will sometimes extend this deadline to 48 hours if there are only a few thousand tickets left unsold; much more rarely, they will occasionally extend this to 24 hours before kickoff in special cases.[19]

Alternatively, some NFL teams have arrangements with local TV stations or businesses to buy up unsold tickets. Tickets in premium "club" sections have been excluded from the blackout rule in past years, as have tickets returned by the visiting team. The Jacksonville Jaguars have even gone further and closed off a number of sections at their home Jacksonville Municipal Stadium to reduce the number of tickets they would need to sell (Jacksonville Municipal Stadium is one of the largest in the NFL, as it was built to also accommodate the annual Florida-Georgia game and the Gator Bowl, but Jacksonville is one of the smallest markets in the league). However, the NFL requires that this be done for every home game (including any home playoff games) in a given season if a team elects such an option, so that they can't try to sell out the entire stadium only when they expect to be able to do so.

On occasion, teams have had their entire home schedule blacked out since not one home game sold out.

Blackout radius

The NFL defines "locally" as within a 75-mile radius of the stadium. Therefore, a TV blackout affects any market (affiliate station) whose terrestrial broadcast signal, under normal over-the-air conditions, penetrates into the 75-mile radius. These particular affiliates are determined before the season, and do not change as the season progresses. Some remote primary media markets, such as Denver and Phoenix, may cover that entire radius, therefore the blackout would not affect any other affiliates.

An exception to the 75-mile rule is the market area for the Green Bay Packers, which stretches out to both the Green Bay and Milwaukee television markets (the team's radio flagship station is in Milwaukee, and selected Packer home games were played at Milwaukee until 1994), and to a smaller extent unofficially into the Escanaba/Marquette, Michigan market due to the presence of translator and satellite stations, along with extended cable coverage of Green Bay stations north into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. However, blackout rules do not come into effect for the Packers, due to a four-decade long streak of sellouts and a decades-long season ticket waiting list making any non-sellout game in the near future seem impossible. Similarly, no Super Bowl has ever been blacked-out in the market of origin since the new blackout rules came into effect, as every Super Bowl except the first was a sell-out, and with the game's high-profile status, it will probably never fail to sell out.

No opposing games

Another policy to encourage sellouts, is that no other NFL game can air opposite the local club's broadcast on the primary market's affiliate.

  • If a local club's broadcast is the "early" game of a doubleheader, the other network (who shows the singleheader), may only show a game during the "late" time slot, even if the club is playing away.
  • If a local club's broadcast is the "late" game of a doubleheader, the other network (who shows the singleheader), may only show a game during the "early" time slot, even if the club is playing away.
  • If a local club's is playing at home, and the broadcast is shown by the singleheader network, the other network (who shows the doubleheader), may only air one game in that market; either "early" or "late" (the slot which the local club is not playing).
  • If a local club's is playing away, and the broadcast is shown by the singleheader network, the other network (who shows the doubleheader), may air both of their games.

The no opposing game policy is a key reason why singleheader games on the east coast are occasionally scheduled for the "late" timeslot.

This rule does not apply in Week 1 (when the US Open is on CBS at 4:30 p.m.) CBS affiliates may broadcast games opposite a team which has a home game on Fox at the same time in Week One.

Each TV market, including one hosting a non-sold-out game, is assured of at least one televised game in the early and late time slots, one game on each network, but no "network doubleheader" in a market originating a non-sold-out game.

The New York and San Francisco Bay area media markets typically get fewer doubleheaders than other markets since each has two teams, and one of them is at home virtually every week. The main exception is when one of the teams is idle, has its home game televised on the doubleheader network, or is chosen for a prime-time game. This policy affects only the club's primary market, not others with signals that penetrate inside the 75-mile radius. It also does not affect viewers of NFL Sunday Ticket in the primary market; all other games remain available.

Blackout procedure

If a home game is blacked out locally because it is not sold out before the 72-hour deadline, one of the following things will happen:

  • If the blacked out home game is a nationally televised game on a broadcast network, like NBC Sunday Night Football, where no other NFL games are played at the same time, all local stations inside the 75-mile radius must broadcast alternative programming (the stations have to program the time themselves, since other affiliates are carrying the game). This scenario is unlikely to happen given that Sunday Night games are scheduled to have highly anticipated matchups featuring teams projected to be good. Thus the chances of a home crowd not selling out the stadium during the first half of the season, when there is still hope for a team to rebound after a slow start, are remote. Roughly halfway through the season NBC and NFL get the option to 'flex' games in and out of the primetime slot. So if a late season matchup ends up featuring a home team that has a terrible record, and thus would be unlikely to sell out, it will be moved to Sunday afternoon in favor of a better game.
  • If the blacked-out nationally televised game is on a cable television network like ESPN or the NFL Network, all cable and satellite television providers in the affected markets must black out the cable network's signal to customers in the affected markets during the game (this is a condition of the channels' agreements with both the league and the providers). In addition, the game is not simulcast on a local broadcast station in the blacked-out markets. Local stations would still be able to show highlights on their newscasts after the game has concluded. In areas where the game is blacked out, ESPN and NFL Network would generally offer alternate programming; local stations originally scheduled to carry the game would either show their own alternate programming or, if a network affiliate, show the normal network schedule for that night.
  • If the blacked-out home game is played on a Sunday afternoon, all local stations inside the 75-mile radius must show a different NFL game during that time slot (the network typically chooses the game). Also, NFL Sunday Ticket cannot offer the game into that area. As stated earlier, the doubleheader network can broadcast only one game into that team's primary market (usually the #1 game), which is also designed to prevent people from opting to watch the other locally televised NFL games instead of going to the local team's game. Again, the secondary markets would still carry a doubleheader. Sometimes, the networks will switch time slots so that the doubleheader network can still show its featured 4:15 game.

Critics claim that these blackout policies are not really effective in creating sold-out, filled stadiums. Rather, there are other factors that cause non-sellouts, such as high ticket prices and the fact that people do not want to support a losing team. Furthermore, TV blackouts hurt the league; without the TV exposure, it becomes more difficult for those teams with low attendance and few sellouts to increase their popularity and following as the league loses TV exposure.[20]

Conversely, the NFL has sold out well over 90 percent of games in recent seasons. Additionally, many teams sell out their entire regular season schedule before it begins (usually through season-ticket sales), and so there is no threat of a blackout in those markets.

In 2005, for the first time in its history, the NFL lifted the blackout policies for a team: the New Orleans Saints. Due to damage by Hurricane Katrina, the Saints split their home games between Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Tiger Stadium at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the Alamodome in San Antonio. Baton Rouge is a secondary Saints market and is subject to blackouts when games at the Superdome carried by over-the-air networks do not sell out, since CBS affiliate WAFB and Fox affiliate WGMB penetrate within 75 miles of the Superdome, even though the city limits of Baton Rouge are more than 75 miles from the Superdome (The Baton Rouge DMA is not blacked out when Saints games televised by ESPN or the NFL Network do not sell out). San Antonio is a secondary market for the Cowboys, and two of three 2005 Saints games played at the Alamodome were not broadcast in San Antonio, or any other markets in Texas, since the start times for the Cowboys and Saints games conflicted on those dates. The only game of the San Antonio dates not to sell out, in week 4 vs. Buffalo, was televised locally by CBS, (on KENS-TV) as the Cowboys had a late game that day at Oakland. (San Antonio Fox affiliate KABB, therefore, never broadcasted a Saints home game in San Antonio, since the Cowboys and Saints are in the NFC.)[21]

The blackout policies even extend to the Pro Bowl; if that game is not sold out, it is not available in the media market of its venue. From 1980 through 2009, the game was played in Honolulu, making the applicable market the entire state of Hawaii.[19] This resulted in the biggest blackout radius in the NFL: thousands of miles, since there are no stations (and virtually no land) between Hawaii and the U.S. mainland (the nearest stations outside are from California, American Samoa and Guam). The 2010 game was played in the Miami area.

Due to decreasing ticket sales, the league significantly softened its blackout policy in 2009. Though the traditional blackout rules still apply, the league is using some of its new media features to provide access to blacked-out games. For instance, the league will not subject its "RedZone" channel to any blackouts (the new RedZone channel, a new service introduced in 2009, cuts to live games when there is a significant potential for scoring). In addition, complete live games will be made available for free online on the Monday (except during Monday Night Football), Tuesday and Wednesday following the game, if the game is blacked out, using the league's Game Rewind package.[22]

"Secondary" markets

In addition, the league also designates "secondary markets," media markets adjoining primary markets (generally penetrating within 75 miles of a stadium but not having their own team) that are also required to show the local team. Generally, these secondary markets must show the road games but are not obligated to show the designated team's sold out home games. Their decision on whether to show home games typically depends on whether or not the NFL-designated local team is perceived to be the most popular in the market. For example, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is a secondary market to the Baltimore Ravens. Therefore the CBS station in Harrisburg, WHP-TV, must show all Ravens road games. However since there are a lot of Pittsburgh Steelers fans there (as well as the Steelers–Ravens rivalry between the two teams), when the Ravens are home at the same time the Steelers are playing, that station shows the Steelers.

There are rare instances where a market will have two teams claiming their territory. For instance, Youngstown, Ohio lies roughly halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh and is within the 75-mile radius for both cities and is considered a battleground territory for the Browns–Steelers rivalry. Therefore, local CBS affiliate WKBN-TV must show whichever team is on the road. If one game is on CBS while the other is on Fox, both games will air. (WKBN also owns low-powered Fox affiliate WYFX-LP and simulcasts WYFX on its second digital subchannel in HDTV along with the main WKBN channel.) If both the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers are scheduled to play at the same time on CBS or Fox and the location of the game doesn't matter, WKBN/WYFX will air the Browns game. The fan base between those two teams are about 50/50, with the San Francisco 49ers also having a small following due to team owners John York & Denise DeBartolo York being based out of the Youngstown suburb of Canfield, Ohio.

An oddity of "temporary" secondary markets has been stations in the state of Wisconsin due to a rooting interest, since Packers quarterback Brett Favre departed the team. In the 2008 season Favre played for the New York Jets; thus WDJT-TV in Milwaukee and WFRV in Green Bay, which as CBS affiliates aired mostly AFC games compared to the NFC contract on Fox, were able to ask for as many Jets games as CBS and the NFL could offer to their viewers [23]. For the 2009 season, when Favre moved to the NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings, WITI Milwaukee and WLUK-TV Green Bay thus have also requested as many Viking games to air on their stations as possible [24], though drastically reduced as most of the weeks the Vikings and Packers play their games at the same time and the fact that the two teams are in the same conference, thus usually playing on the same network (whereas the Jets and Packers were usually on separate networks).

In all other markets, the networks are the sole arbiters of what game gets shown where. However, they usually make their decisions after consulting with all of their local affiliates. In some rarer occasions, some affiliates are offered a choice of a few games for a given time-slot, if there is not one game that stands out as appropriate. In those cases, some stations have been known to allow the viewers to vote online for which game to air.

Commercial breaks

During each half of a network-televised game, following the official kickoff, there are ten prescribed commercials breaks. Two are firmly scheduled, and eight others are randomly worked in during breaks in the game itself.[25]

Pre-scheduled commercials breaks:

  • The end of the first (or third) quarter
  • The two-minute warning of the second (or fourth) quarter

Other instances used for commercial breaks (eight total required per half):

  • A timeout called by either team
  • Instant replay stoppage
  • Game stoppage after a score
  • Game stoppage after a kickoff or punt (unless it's the opening kickoff of each half)
  • Game stoppage after a turnover
  • Injury timeout

Two commercial breaks during the typical 12-minute halftime period are considered separate.

Networks are more apt to front-load their commercials in the first and third quarters, to prevent an overrun in the second and fourth quarters, respectively. If a team calls a timeout and the network decides to use it for a commercial break, a representative from the broadcast crew stationed on the sidelines wearing orange sleeves makes a crossing motion with his hands to alert the officials. The referee declares it a "two-minute timeout."

Once a broadcast has fulfilled the 8 "random" breaks, game stoppages are no longer needed for commercials. The orange sleeve will hold his hands down in a twirl motion to alert the officials. If a team calls a timeout, the referee will declare it a "30-second timeout." Once any timeout in a half is declared a 30-second timeout, all remaining timeouts will be.

Since the 10 total commercial breaks for the second half are to be finished prior to the end of regulation, commercial breaks are rarely needed in overtime situations. In many cases, overtime periods are conducted without any commercials. This also allows the extended broadcast to finish in a timely manner.

Broadcasting history

From infancy to national success

NBC was the first major television network to cover an NFL game, when on October 22, 1939, it televised a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Brooklyn Dodgers; the network was still only in experimental stages at the time, with only two affiliates, the modern day WRGB (now a CBS affiliate) in Schenectady and WNBC in New York City.

In 1950, the Los Angeles Rams and the Washington Redskins became the first NFL teams to have all of their home and road games televised. In that same year, other teams made deals to have selected games broadcast on TV. The DuMont Network then paid a rights fee of $75,000 to televise the 1951 NFL Championship Game across the entire United States.

From 1953 to 1955, DuMont also televised Saturday night NFL games. It was the first time that National Football League games were broadcast live, coast-to-coast, in prime time, for the entire season. The broadcasts ended after the 1955 season, when the DuMont Network folded.

By 1955, NBC became the televised home to the NFL Championship Game, paying $100,000 to the league. The 1958 NFL Championship Game played at Yankee Stadium between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants went into sudden death overtime. This game, known since as the "Greatest Game Ever Played," was seen by many throughout the country and is credited with increasing the popularity of professional football in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

CBS began to televise selected NFL regular season games in 1956.

War with the AFL

When the rival American Football League (AFL) began in 1960, it signed a 5-year contract with ABC to cover their games. This became the first ever cooperative television plan for professional football, in which the proceeds of the contract were divided equally among member clubs. ABC and the AFL also introduced moving, on-field cameras (as opposed to the fixed midfield cameras of CBS and the NFL), and were the first to have players "miked" during broadcast games.

The NFL followed suit in 1962 with its own revenue sharing plan after CBS agreed to telecast all regular season games for an annual fee of $4.65 million. CBS' fee later increased to $14.1 million per year in 1964, and $18.8 million per year in 1966.

With NBC paying the AFL $36 million in 1965 to televise its games, and the increased, heated battle over college prospects, both leagues negotiated a merger agreement on June 8, 1966. Although they would not officially merge into one combined league until 1970, one of the conditions of the agreement was that the winners of each league's championship game would meet in a contest to determine the "world champion of football."

The first ever AFL-NFL World Championship Game was played on January 15, 1967. Because CBS held the rights to nationally televise NFL games and NBC had the rights to broadcast AFL games, it was decided to have both of them cover that first game. The next three AFL-NFL World Championship Games, later renamed the Super Bowl, were then divided by the two networks: CBS broadcast Super Bowls II and IV while NBC covered III.

Post AFL-NFL Merger

When the AFL and the NFL officially merged in 1970, the combined league divided its teams into the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). It was then decided that CBS would televise all NFC teams (including playoff games) while NBC all AFC teams. For interconference games, CBS would broadcast them if the visiting team was from the NFC and NBC would carry them when the visitors were from the AFC. The two networks also divided up the Super Bowl on a yearly rotation.

Also, ABC agreed to televise one regular season game per week on Monday night. ABC aired its first edition of Monday Night Football on September 21, 1970. MNF itself pushed the limits of football coverage with its halftime highlights segment, occasional banter from Howard Cosell and Dennis Miller, and celebrity guests such as John Lennon, Arnold Schwarzenegger and President Clinton. During its 36-year run on ABC, Monday Night Football consistently ranked among the most popular primetime broadcasts each week during the NFL season.

As the league's broadcasters, ABC, CBS, and NBC had their own talent. Announcers such as Cosell, Frank Gifford, and Al Michaels (from ABC); Pat Summerall and John Madden (from CBS); and Curt Gowdy, Dick Enberg, Marv Albert, Jim Simpson, Kyle Rote and Jim Lampley (from NBC), all had their own unique analysis of the game. Even the individual networks' football coverage was innovative. For example, CBS' The NFL Today was the first pre-game show to have a female co-host (Phyllis George). On December 20, 1980 NBC made history by broadcasting a game between the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins with no announcers. NBC has also tried one-announcer football when Dick Enberg called the New York Jets at Cleveland Browns game on December 12, 1981 without his regular commentator Merlin Olsen at his side. NBC instead pre-recorded interviews with players & coaches from both teams leading up to the game which would fill in the position where Olsen would have spoken. On December 27, 1987, NBC had the first female play-by-play football announcer in Gayle Sierens, who partnered with Dave Rowe in game between the Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs which in its own way, set the mold for female sportscasters of today. It is still the only time when a female has called play-by-play on an NFL game.

In 1978, the NFL increased its revenue from both ticket sales and TV by expanding the regular season from 14 games to 16. Furthermore, the playoff format was expanded from 8 teams to 10 teams, enabling the league to give another post-season game each to CBS and NBC.

Meanwhile, the Super Bowl became a yearly ratings blockbuster, allowing the network that aired it to generate millions of dollars in advertising revenue. Four of the ten highest rated television broadcasts of all-time (in the U.S.) are Super Bowls.[26] When the league signed a new 5-year TV contract with the three networks in 1982, it allowed ABC to enter into the Super Bowl rotation; Super Bowl XIX was the first that ABC televised. Since then, the network that televises each Super Bowl is determined by the TV contracts that the league negotiates with all of its broadcasters. Each network broadcaster generally gets one Super Bowl before any gets a second one. This process repeats before any network airs a third one (although the TV contracts usually expire by that time).

Expansion to cable TV, satellite TV, and a four tiered playoff

The middle of the 1980s ushered in the cable era, and the NFL was eager to exploit that opportunity in 1987.

ESPN became the first cable network to broadcast regular season NFL games. Chris Berman helped redefine the pre- and post-game shows when he launched NFL Countdown and NFL Primetime, and they have since become the top-rated pre- and post-game shows on television. The cable network's contract to show ESPN Sunday Night Football was one of the turning points for ESPN, transforming it from a small cable network to a marketing empire.

When ESPN first started televising NFL games in 1987, it only broadcast Sunday night games during the second half of the season. Meanwhile, ABC, CBS, and NBC maintained their rights to Monday Night Football, the NFC, and the AFC, respectively.

By 1990, Turner's TNT network started to broadcast Sunday night games for the first half of the season. The combined 1990 contracts with ABC, CBS, ESPN, NBC, and TNT totaled to $3.6 billion ($900 million per year), the largest in TV history. One major factor in the increased TV rights fee was that the league changed the regular season so that all NFL teams would play their 16-game schedule over a 17-week period. ABC was also given the rights to televise the two Saturday games on the opening weekend of the postseason. This was made possible after the league also expanded its playoff format to include more teams.

In 1994, the league signed an exclusivity agreement with the direct broadcast satellite (DBS) service DirecTV to launch NFL Sunday Ticket, a satellite television subscription service that offers every regular season NFL game.

Broadcast realignments

When new TV contracts were signed in December 1993, CBS (which had been home to NFC games for 38 years) lost their rights to the then-fledgling Fox Network. Fox offered a then-record $1.58 billion to the NFL over four years for the rights, significantly more than the $290 million CBS was willing to pay. Fox was only seven years old and had no sports division, but it began building its own coverage by hiring many former CBS personalities such as Summerall and Madden. Fox's NFL rights ownership made the network a major player in American television by giving it many new viewers (and affiliates) and a platform to advertise its other shows. In the meantime, CBS lost several affiliates (mainly owned by New World Communications) to Fox, and ratings for its other programming languished. To this day, CBS admits it has never recovered from the loss of affiliates, primarily in Atlanta, Detroit, and Milwaukee, where it was dropped to lower-powered affiliates unable to be received in some areas. (Because of satellite television, the NFL Sunday Ticket in local markets, and rules of the time, satellite subscribers were required to use antennas to pick up local affiliates. CBS was devastated by the loss of over-the-air availability of these stations in the outer reaches of some markets.)

Meanwhile, NBC's rebound in the overall ratings in both the 1980s and 1990s (after years in the bottom of the ratings cellar) were attributed in part to its continuing coverage of the NFL. But with television contract re-negotiations in early 1998 ushering in the era of multi-billion dollar broadcasting agreements, an era of pro football broadcasting would soon came to an unceremonious conclusion. CBS, stung by Fox's surprise bid four years earlier, aggressively sought to reacquire some broadcasting rights. CBS agreed to pay $4 billion over eight years ($500 million per season) to air AFC games. NBC, meanwhile, had indicated a desire to bid for Monday Night Football rights in 1998, but gave up when the financial stakes skyrocketed. And so, after six decades, NBC, the network that helped define pro football on television, lost its rights to air the NFL, thus marking the beginning of a slow decline for the Peacock network's sports division, resulting in the devastating 2004–05 prime-time season, when NBC carried no major sporting championships during prime-time (NBC had already lost Major League Baseball broadcasting rights in 2000 and National Basketball Association rights in 2002), something the other networks carried. NBC's attempts to replace the NFL with other pro football, including the XFL in 2001 and the Arena Football League coverage from 2003 to 2006, proved to be disastrous. Like CBS before it, NBC would later decide that not having NFL rights did too much damage to its overall ratings to justify not paying the high rights fees required.

The other networks also signed eight-year deals in 1998. Fox extended its NFC deal by agreeing to a $4.4 billion contract ($550 million per season). ABC retained its longtime rights to Monday Night Football by also paying $4.4 billion over eight years. And ESPN agreed to a $4.8 billion ($600 million a season) deal to become the sole cable broadcaster of NFL games, marking an end with the league's association with TNT. And like previous TV contracts, the coverage of the Super Bowl was divided between the broadcast networks.

Thursday Kickoff Game

In 2002, the NFL began scheduling a Thursday night special opening "Kickoff" game, taking place the Thursday after Labor Day and leading into the opening Sunday slate of NFL games. The event includes a pre-game concert and other festivities that are televised. The first series of these events were held in New York and Washington, DC respectively to celebrate both cities' resilience in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks [27]. The 2002 San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants game was held on September 5 and televised on ESPN. The 2003 edition of the kickoff game featured the Washington Redskins hosting the New York Jets on September 4, 2003, and the game was televised by ABC. Since 2006, NBC has televised the Kickoff game (see below).

Starting in 2004, the NFL began awarding the opening game to the defending Super Bowl champions as the official start of their title defense. The unfurling of the team's Super Bowl championship banner in their stadium has become a centerpiece of the opening ceremonies. No game better exemplified this format than in 2004, when the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots hosted the Indianapolis Colts in a rematch of the 2003 AFC Championship.

Financial losses lead to another realignment

Recently, the NFL's TV broadcasters have suffered annual financial losses because advertising revenue is unable to meet the cost incurred by the purchase of broadcast rights.

Nevertheless, the current broadcast contract, which began in the 2006 season, resulted in a sizable increase in total rights fees. Both Fox and CBS renewed their Sunday afternoon broadcast packages through 2011, in both cases with modest increases. Furthermore, the league and DirecTV signed a five year extension to their exclusivity deal on NFL Sunday Ticket.

But despite relatively high, if declining, TV ratings, ABC decided to end its relationship with the NFL after losing significant sums of money on Monday Night Football. In addition to the fees issue, part of this decision may have been the result of a resurgent ABC primetime entertainment schedule during the 2004–05 season, particularly on Sunday evening with Desperate Housewives; thus ABC would be unable to satisfy the league's reported preference for a Sunday night game on broadcast television as opposed to Monday.

Because of that, Monday Night Football moved to ESPN, with the cable network paying $1.1 billion per year from 2006 to 2014 for the rights to the lucrative franchise. Unlike the broadcast networks, however, ESPN can generate revenue from subscription sales, in addition to traditional commercial breaks. The cable network's coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET with SportsCenter Special Edition: Monday Night Kickoff. The 2009 edition saw the game itself start at 8:30 p.m., with Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, and Jon Gruden in the broadcast booths for the games.

Meanwhile, NBC, after losing the AFC package to CBS in 1997, was able to reclaim its share of the NFL broadcast rights with a deal worth an average of $650 million per year to air the Sunday night package from 2006 to 2014 (not much more than ESPN used to pay for the same rights). This new deal includes the Super Bowl in 2009 and 2012. NBC's coverage also includes three preseason games (including the annual Hall of Fame Game), the first two Wild Card playoff games of each post-season, and the annual Thursday opening Kickoff Game, similar to ABC's broadcast rights package. The major difference is that the NFL allows NBC flexibility in selecting games in the latter part of the season. ABC did not have the right to be flexible with their Monday Night Football schedule and picked matchups based on a team's record in the previous season (as NBC does), which could and often did lead to teams with losing records playing each other on Monday night later in the season. The moves were intended to break NBC out of its ratings slump; however, as of 2010, this has not happened, and although NBC Sunday Night Football is the network's top rated program and in the top 30 for viewing audience, it hasn't helped the rest of the schedule, which remains firmly parked in fourth place and losing large sums of money (so much so that the network had to cut an hour of prime time programming from its weeknight lineups in favor of a somewhat lower budget talk show, which lasted five months).

Coverage of NBC Sunday Night Football starts at 8:15 p.m. ET with Al Michaels serving as the play-by-play announcer, Cris Collinsworth as color commentator, and Andrea Kremer as the sole sideline reporter. Each telecast begins with a pre-game show airing at 7 p.m. ET entitled Football Night in America, hosted by Bob Costas.

In addition, for the first three years of the contract, the network that carried the Super Bowl also broadcast the Pro Bowl on the Saturday night following the championship game. In the calendar year 2007, CBS broadcast both games, followed by Fox in 2008, and NBC in 2009. In 2010, the Pro Bowl will move to the weekend before the Super Bowl, and will be aired by ESPN. The 2010 deal is a one-time situation (it returns to the week after the Super Bowl in the 2010–11 season) to protect the Winter Olympics in Vancouver that starts the next week.

The NFL Network was created by the league in 2003 and given a separate package of games to air. The eight-game package consists of prime-time games which in 2006 and 2007 begun airing from Thanksgiving to the end of the regular season. 5 games aired on Thursday nights and 3 Saturday nights, the latter beginning Week 15 of the season. For the 2008 season the ratio and dates of the games changed: now there were 7 Thursday night games beginning the first week of November and continuing to Week 16. There was only one Saturday night game (Baltimore Ravens at Dallas Cowboys, in the latter's Texas Stadium finale), airing during Week 16. The NFL could theoretically decide to sell this package to another network should NFL Network broadcasts not generate enough revenue. NFL Network will also carry several preseason games. The introduction of the NFL Network games also marked the end to late-season Saturday afternoon regular season games on the networks that aired Sunday afternoon games: CBS, Fox and NBC.

Coverage changes

The style of pro football broadcasting has seen several changes since the 1990s, including female hosts and sideline reporters, visual first-down markers, advanced graphics, new multi-camera angles, and high definition telecasts.

Holiday games

Thanksgiving Day games

The Detroit Lions have hosted a game every Thanksgiving Day since 1934 (with the exception of 1939–1944 due to World War II), and they have been nationally televised since 1962. In 1966, the NFL introduced an annual game hosted by the Dallas Cowboys, which they have played every year except in 1975 and 1977 when the St. Louis Cardinals hosted a game instead. However, St. Louis football fans, used to the traditional "Turkey Day Game" between Kirkwood High School and Webster Groves High School as the only local match on Thanksgiving, did not respond well to an NFL game on the same day, and thus Dallas resumed hosting the game in 1978.

When the AFL began holding annual Thanksgiving Day games, the league chose a different model – circulating the game among several cities. During the 1967–69 seasons, two Thanksgiving AFL games were televised each year.

After the 1970 merger, the NFL decided to keep only the traditional Detroit and Dallas games. Due to the broadcast contracts in place since 1970, three NFC teams play on Thanksgiving, as opposed to only one AFC team. During even years, the Lions play their Thanksgiving game against an AFC team, and thus are televised by the network holding the AFC package (NBC and later CBS); the Cowboys host an NFC team and are shown by the network with the NFC package (CBS and later Fox). During odd years, Dallas hosts an AFC team and Detroit plays an NFC opponent. Every decade or so, this even-odd rotation is reversed — with Detroit hosting an NFC team in even years and an AFC team in odd years, and Dallas hosting an AFC team in even years and an NFC team in odd years.

When the league created its new TV package for the NFL Network in 2006, a third Thanksgiving game was added, a prime time game hosted by one of the remaining 30 NFL teams each year. While the first game featured two AFC teams, conference affiliation has varied since.

Christmas and Christmas Eve games

In recent years, the NFL has generally scheduled games on Christmas only if it falls on a day normally used for games (Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday). If Christmas falls on a Sunday, as it did in 2005, most of the games will be played on the preceding day (with no games that night or the following afternoon in deference to the holiday), and then one or two games are scheduled for Christmas Night to be broadcast nationally. One game would be held over for the regular Monday night slot and one would already have been played on Thursday. Through the 2006 season, there have been 14 such Christmas contests.

The first NFL games actually played on December 25 came after the merger during the 1971 season. The first two games of the Divisional Playoff Round were held on Christmas Day. However, the second of the two contests played that day, the Miami Dolphins versus the Kansas City Chiefs, wound up being the longest game in NFL history.[28] Because of the length of this game, the league received numerous complaints, reportedly because it caused havoc with Christmas dinners around the nation. As a result, the NFL decided to not schedule any Christmas Day matches for the 17 years that followed.

In 1976 and 1977, the last two years before the advent of the 16-game schedule and expanded playoffs, the NFL came up with different approaches to avoid Christmas play. In 1976, when Christmas fell on a Saturday, it moved the start of the regular season up one week to Sunday, September 12. The divisional playoffs were held the weekend of December 18 and 19, leaving the conference championship games on Sunday, December 26. Super Bowl XI was played January 9, 1977, the earliest it has ever been held. In 1977, with Christmas on Sunday, the NFL split the divisional playoffs, and for the first and only time since the AFL-NFL merger, each conference held both its divisional playoff games the same day (AFC Saturday, December 24 and NFC Monday, December 26), ostensibly not to give one team a two-day rest advantage over the other for the conference championship games.

The NFL continued to avoid Christmas even after it started to increase the regular season and the playoffs. The league expanded to a 16-game regular season and a 10-team playoff tournament in 1978, but it was not until 1982 that the regular season ended after Christmas, due to the player's strike. Finally, in 1989, the NFL tried another Christmas Day game, the Cincinnati Bengals at the Minnesota Vikings, but it was a 9 p.m. ET Monday Night Football contest, thereby avoiding interfering with family dinners. In the years since, the NFL has played an occasional late-afternoon or night game on the holiday; but there has not been a Christmas Day game starting earlier than 5 p.m. ET since 1971.

There have also been several games played on Christmas Eve over the years, the most famous of these being a Oakland Raiders-Baltimore Colts playoff contest in 1977 which culminated in a play immortalized as "Ghost to the Post". These games have typically been played during the afternoon out of deference to the holiday. If Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, then most of the weekend's NFL games will be on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, except for a few games held over for the Sunday and Monday TV packages.

In 2007, television contract obligations led to the league scheduling its first prime-time Christmas Eve game, when the Denver Broncos met the San Diego Chargers in San Diego on December 24, which happened to be a Monday. This game started at 5 P.M. local time (8 P.M. Eastern), and both teams were from the western United States.

The most recent Christmas game took place on Friday, December 25, 2009: San Diego at Tennessee.

New Year's games

The NFL also never plays games on New Year's Day in any year in which January 1 is a non-Sunday, deferring to the numerous New Year's Day college football bowl games that are traditionally held on that day. However, when New Year's Day falls on a Sunday, the traditional bowl games are moved to Monday, January 2 (which becomes a federal holiday), allowing NFL games to be played on the 1st. The AFL played its first league championship game on January 1, 1961. Thereafter, pro football has been played on New Year's Day in 1967 (the 1966 NFL and AFL Championship Games), in 1978 (the 1977 NFC and AFC Championship Games), in 1984 (the 1983 NFC and AFC Divisional Playoff Games), in 1989 (the 1988 NFC and AFC Divisional Playoff Games), in 1995 (the second half of the 1994 NFC and AFC Wild Card Games), and in 2006 (the final weekend of the 2005 regular season).

In years when January 1 falls on a Monday, a regular slate of NFL games will be played on New Year's Eve, December 31.

Monday Night Football

Between 1970 and 1977, and again since 2003, there has been no Monday night game during the last week of the season. From 1978 until 2002, a season-ending Monday night game was scheduled. The 2003 revision permits the NFL to have all eight teams involved in the Wild Card playoffs to have equal time in preparation, instead of the possibility of one or two teams having a short week of preparation for their playoff game if they were picked to play on Saturday, instead of Sunday. This scenario, in which a team finishing its season on Monday night had a playoff game the following Saturday, never occurred.

In 2006, ESPN opened the season with a Monday Night Football doubleheader, with a 7 p.m. game and a 10:30 p.m. both shown in their entirety nationwide. The doubleheader during the first week of the season has continued ever since.

NFL broadcasters

Current broadcasters:

Former broadcasters:

List of NFL television contracts

Since 1982
Period AFC Package NFC Package Sunday Night Monday Night Thu/Sat Night Total Amount
1982–1986 NBC CBS None ABC $420 million/yr
1987–1989 NBC CBS ESPN (2nd half) ABC $473 million/yr
1990–1993 NBC CBS TNT (1st half)
ESPN (2nd half)
ABC $900 million/yr
1994–1997 NBC Fox ($395 million/yr) TNT (1st half)
ESPN (2nd half)
ABC $1.1 billion/yr
1998–2005 CBS ($500 million/yr) Fox ($550 million/yr) ESPN ($600 million/yr) ABC ($550 million/yr) ESPN $2.2 billion/yr
2006–2013 CBS ($622.5 million/yr) Fox ($712.5 million/yr) NBC ($650 million/yr) ESPN ($1.1 billion/yr) NFL Network ($0/yr) $3.085 billion/yr
  • ESPN's Sunday Night Football contract included selected Thursday night and Saturday night games in December. Through 2001, the contract included one Thursday night game in October (the weekend of games 1–2 of the World Series), in lieu of the Sunday night game that weekend. In 2002, the night game was eliminated altogether for that weekend, and replaced with the NFL Kickoff game. In 2003, the NFL Kickoff game moved to ABC (to replace the Week 17 Monday night game), and ESPN filled the void with another late-season Saturday night game.
  • ESPN's contract runs through 2014. NFL Network plans to continue the current arrangement through the 2012 season. The CBS/Fox and NBC packages were originally scheduled to expire in 2011 and 2012 respectively, but both were extended to their current 2013 expiration date.
  • Since the NFL Network is owned by the league, there was no rights fee paid for the 8-game Run to the Playoffs package.
  • NFL Sunday Ticket's package on DirecTV brings in another $700 million/yr not counted in this listing.

Leverage over the networks

The NFL's status as a prime offering by the networks has led some to conclude that unbiased coverage of the league is not possible, although this may be true of most sports. ESPN attempted to run a dramatic series showing steamier aspects of pro football, Playmakers, but dropped the series after the league reportedly threatened to exclude the network from carrying its games under the next set of TV contracts.

The NFL also has a strict policy prohibiting networks to run ads during official NFL programming (pre and post-game studio shows and the games themselves) from the gambling industry, and has rejected some ads from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Commissioner Roger Goodell explained in 2007 that he did not think it behooved the sport to associate with sports betting.[29] Additionally, the networks and their announcers cannot discuss or run graphics showing point spreads during NFL shows (Al Michaels, among other announcers, has been known to allude to them on-air, particularly at the end of the game where a seemingly insignificant score can have a major effect on the point-spread outcome.) Most teams also insert similar clauses into their radio contracts, which are locally negotiated. The NFL injury report and required videotaping of practice are theoretically intended to prevent gamblers from gaining inside information. In contrast, fantasy football is often free to play.

At the start of the game, a teaser animation is displayed on all broadcasts. "Name of broadcaster welcomes you to the following presentation of the National Football League" (or similar phrasing) is announced, while at the end of the game, the message is "Name of broadcaster thanks you for watching this presentation of the National Football League" (or similar phrasing). This announcement is designed to separate game coverage from news, sports analysis, or entertainment programming not under the NFL contract and NFL ownership. Also, since 1998, the NFL has owned the rights to game broadcasts once they air—a copyright disclaimer airs either before the start of the second half or after the first commercial break of the second half, depending on the broadcaster ("This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience [and] any other use of this telecast or [of] any pictures, descriptions or accounts of the game without the NFL's consent is prohibited"). Only the NFL Network can re-air games; they pick a few each week.

Further, the NFL imposes restrictions on sponsored segments during game coverage (this does not apply to national or local radio broadcasts). These are permitted only prior to kick off, during halftime, and following the game (once the "...welcomes you to the following presentation.." notice appears, the restrictions take effect until half-time, and again until the game ends); however, these segments (and other programming with title sponsorships, particularly halftime and post-game shows or other sports properties) can be advertised a couple of times during game coverage, and "aerial footage" providers (i.e. sponsored blimps) may be acknowledged, usually once an hour as is standard in other sports. Other acknowledgments (including HDTV or Skycam-type camera sponsorships) are limited to pre-kickoff and post-game credits. This is done so that, while competitors of the NFL's official sponsors may advertise on game broadcasts, they will not potentially become synonymous with the league through in-game and/or title sponsorship.

Finally, sideline reporters are restricted as to whom they can speak to and when (usually a head coach at halftime, and one or two players before and after the game ends). Information on injured players or rules interpretations are relayed from NFL off-field officials to the TV producers in the truck, who then pass it along to the sideline reporters or booth announcers. Thus, CBS opted in 2006 to no longer use sideline reporters except for some playoff games. ESPN followed suit by reducing the roles of their sideline reporters in 2008.

NFL Films

The NFL owns NFL Films, whose duties include providing game film to media outlets for highlight shows after a 2–3 day window in which outlets can use original game broadcast highlights.

International broadcasters

Current NFL broadcast deals

Other locations

ESPN and/or NewsCorp-owned networks distribute NFL games to most other regions of the world, including Latin America, Asia, and Oceania.

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/article/114714
  2. ^ http://www.sportsbusinessjournal.com/article/63444
  3. ^ http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1921401,00.html
  4. ^ http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=keown/090825&sportCat=nfl
  5. ^ Nielson's Top 10 Ratings: Top 10 Network Telecasts of All Time
  6. ^ McKenna, Barrie "NBC hoping NFL, Internet will lead comeback", globeandmail.com, retrieved on October 30, 2006
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ "NFL agrees to 6-year extensions with CBS, Fox" ESPN.com, Nov 9 2004
  9. ^ NFL TV and Radio Broadcast Partner Schedule, NFL.com
  10. ^ http://www.kirotv.com/station/17459704/detail.html
  11. ^ [2]
  12. ^ NFL Sunday Ticket
  13. ^ NFL Sunday Ticket
  14. ^ Associated Press (2009-04-17). "Jets to play Titans at 1 p.m. in Week 3". http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=4078103. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  15. ^ Neil Best (2009-10-13). "Giants, Jets play at same time 11/1". http://www.newsday.com/blogs/sports/watchdog-1.812020/giants-jets-play-at-same-time-11-1-1.1520052. Retrieved 2009-10-13. 
  16. ^ Garcia, Julian (2009-09-22). "Giants, Jets on at same time on Sunday because of Yom Kippur". New York Daily News. http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/jets/2009/09/22/2009-09-22_giants_jets_on_at_same_time_on_sunday_.html. Retrieved 2009-11-19. 
  17. ^ Johnston, Joey (March 24, 2001). "The Art of Scheduling". Tampa Tribune. 
  18. ^ Flex TV scheduling leaves NFL games up in the air
  19. ^ a b Local TV blackout still possible for Pro Bowl. NFL.com. 6 February 2009.
  20. ^ Nader, Ralph (1998-08-17). "Ralph Nader's op-ed opposing the NFL's blackout rule". LeagueOfFans.org (republished) (Democrat and Chronicle): pp. 5A. http://www.leagueoffans.org/blackoutoped.html. Retrieved 2007-07-11. 
  21. ^ NFL (2005-10-26). "No blackout for Saints games in Baton Rouge". Press release. http://www.nfl.com/teams/story/NO/9005538. Retrieved 2007-07-11. 
  22. ^ NFL.com to show blacked-out games free in local markets on delayed basis. NFL.com press release.
  23. ^ JS Online: Favre lands Jets on CBS
  24. ^ http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/article/20090821/GPG0101/908210553/1207/GPG01/Local-stations-to-carry-8-Vikings-games
  25. ^ The Answer Man, Vol. 19
  26. ^ Top 10 Network Telecasts of All Time from Nielsen Media Research
  27. ^ NFL Scores: 2007 – Super Bowl
  28. ^ Ho Ho Ho! The NFL on Christmas History
  29. ^ "Goodell: 'We have to educate our players ...'". ESPN.com. ESPN. 2007-02-02. http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/playoffs06/news/story?id=2752126. Retrieved 2007-07-11. 

References


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