Rarely do I want you to leave our site. Today I’m going to make an exception. Take a second and flip around some of the national sports websites this afternoon and you’ll find ad after ad after ad for tonight’s Green Bay/Chicago NFL game on NFL Network. For the first time, the National Football League has decided to go all-in on Thursday nights with a weekly pro game. The past few seasons, the NFL has kicked off its Thursday nighters after Thanksgiving… about when the college regular season is winding down.
As a pro fan, I hate the NFL’s decision to expand its Thursday schedule. Just give me my games on Sundays and Mondays, please.
But with the NFL already growing its own schedule, ESPN and the SEC are also eyeing a possible Thursday night partnership. And I not only don’t like that decision, I think it would be a dumb one.
The NFL is Leo DiCaprio in “Titanic.” It’s James Cameron at the Oscars. It’s the King of the World. Heck, do you realize that the NFL’s Pro Bowl — yeah, the game everyone hates and makes fun of — is the top-rated All-Star game in professional sports and that it ranks as one of the top sports draws on television each year? And it’s awful.
Here’s some more perspective, from January through July, the 12 most-viewed sporting events on television were all NFL games. That BCS Championship Game between Alabama and LSU? The apex of the collegiate season which featured the two best teams from the very best conference? Yeah, it came in at #13 on the list behind the Super Bowl and 11 other NFL contests. Not even the biggest game in college football with two teams from Southeastern Conference can compete with the National Football League when it comes to television viewership.
Still, just last week, SEC scheduling guru Larry Templeton told Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News the following:
“I would hope that we have a conversation, which we haven’t yet, that everybody plays a game on Thursday night during the (next scheduling) cycle. There will be some schools that have difficulty hosting that game. But there would also be opportunities….
Yes, it could become a highly-viewed (television) window. Particularly in an exclusive window.”
Translation: “Think of the exposure if we partner with ESPN to make Thursday night ‘SEC Night’ in America!”
This year’s Thursday night opener between South Carolina and Vanderbilt pulled a 3.0 rating — 4.1 million viewers — and was ESPN’s top-rated Thursday night game since Auburn played Virginia in 1998. Very promising.
One problem. That Vandy/USC game didn’t have to go head-to-head against a highly-promoted NFL game. If it had, you can be certain it wouldn’t have grabbed 4.1 million sets of eyeballs.
The NFL also figures to be a big competitor should the SEC eventually decide to put Ole Miss-Mississippi State or LSU-Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night. This year — after CBS and Fox have their daytime fun — the primetime Turkey Day game will move from NFL Network to NBC. That will mean a nifty increase in ratings for the NFL’s primetime game.
Look, I get it. It’s clear that the SEC wants to further separate itself from the rest of the college football playin’ pack. Feeding ESPN a weekly Thursday night game looks good on paper. But going toe-to-toe with the top-rated sports league in the country? That takes a little bit of the steam out of the whole SEC/ESPN/Thursdays idea if you ask this writer. Instead of maximum exposure, the SEC’s Thursday night game would be more along the lines of niche programming.
That’s no knock on the SEC which is college football’s ratings champ. It’s simply a statement of fact. No other sporting event can battle the NFL for viewers and expect to win on a regular basis. And if the SEC loses such a ratings battle on a regular basis, it could actually do more harm to the league’s reputation than good. The best looking girl in your hometown probably wouldn’t want to be seated next to Angelina Jolie at a party. She may be pretty, but compared to Jolie, she won’t look as pretty.