Beginning with Sunday, November 18, the Flexible Scheduling policy allows the NFL to determine which game will be played at 8:15pm Eastern time in front of a national TV audience on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
While the NFL has long changed games from 1 to 4pm [and vice versa] on Sundays, this is only the second year of the "Flex" policy allowing them to change a daytime game to a night game.
What effect did it have on ratings last year and what games are we likely to see this year because of it?
In 2006, the Flexible Scheduling policy was in effect on weeks 10-15 and 17. [Week 16 Sunday was Christmas Eve].
Did it have a noticeable effect on the ratings on those weeks?
The following chart shows the viewership trend for both the ESPN Monday Night game and the NBC Sunday Night game. There was no Sunday night game in weeks 7 and 16, and no Monday night game in week 17.
(click chart for full-sized image)
The Monday night games were all determined before the season start and were unchangeable, as were the Sunday night games in weeks 1-9.
Visually there seems to have been no clear ratings trend/benefit to the Flexible Scheduling policy. The average viewership of the Sunday night games in weeks 1-9 was 12.4m, in weeks 10-15 and 17 it was 11.4m, a decline of 8%. The equivalent averages for Monday night games were 9.7m and 8.3m, a decline of 14%. However there were far too many other variables for a difference that small to be considered significant. We'll look at this season again after the fact and see if we can see a trend.
Now then, just for us fans, what are the games currently scheduled on Sunday nights for the rest of this season and which are the games we are likely to actually see.
|Week||Game Day||Scheduled||Likely?||Decision Day|
|11||11/18/07||NE @ BUF||Already changed||11/6/07|
|12||11/25/07||PHI @ NE||Kept as PHI @ NE||11/13/07|
|13||12/2/07||CIN @ PIT||Kept as CIN @ PIT||11/20/07|
|14||12/9/07||IND @ BAL||Kept as IND @ BAL||11/27/07|
|15||12/16/07||WAS @ NYG||Kept as WAS @ NYG||12/4/07|
|16||12/23/07||WAS @ MIN||Changed to WAS @ MIN from TB @ SF||12/11/07|
|17||12/30/07||KC @ NYJ||TEN @ IND, DAL @ WAS, DET @ GB||12/24/07|
11/14 UPDATE: Surprise, surprise, the 11/25 game was kept as PHI @ NE.
11/21 UPDATE: The 12/2 game has been kept as CIN @ PIT
11/28 UPDATE: The 12/9 game has been kept as IND @ BAL
12/6 UPDATE: The 12/16 game has been kept as WAS @ NYG. Things are not changing as much as I would have expected.
12/11 UPDATE: The 12/23 game has been changed to WAS @ MIN. More playoff implications, but likely fewer viewers than some others. The Redskins end up playing 2 Sunday nights in a row.
The NFL must determine the Sunday night game 12 days in advance for weeks 11-16 and 5 days in advance for week 17. The week 11 game has already been changed to New England @ Buffalo.
I've made my guesses as to what games might be made the Sunday night game based solely on likely ratings winners.
If I were the NFL, and I wanted to maximize ratings, and the Patriots stay undefeated, I'd put them on Sunday night every possible chance. Were they to lose, I'd also consider Indianapolis, Green Bay and Dallas in that order, again, for the ratings.
Unfortunately for NBC, my guess is that ratings are not the only determining factor for the NFL decision. A week 17 game with playoff implications between small market teams is likely to bring lower ratings than almost any game featuring a marquis team.
Nielsen TV Ratings Data: ©2007 Nielsen Media Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.