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Small Market Roundtable: Prime Time Scheduling

If you haven't been following the Small Market Roundtable series to this point, allow me to give you the opportunity to catch up here by pointing out the previous installments (in chronological order):

Stadiums at Pride of Detroit
Relocation at Big Cat Country
Free Agent Attraction at Stampede Blue
Media Coverage at Music City Miracles

(I'm pretty sure that's all of them.  If I missed any, I'll come back with an edit later on.)

This week's installment of the Small Market Roundtable deals with the gap in the scheduling of prime time games between large and small market teams.  How big is the gap?  Is there even a gap at all?  Read on, good people.

Quite honestly, it's my opinion that there are some factors that weigh more heavily on whether or not a team gets on prime time television than market size does.  Frankly, if these things went on market size, the Vikings would probably see more prime time games than they have, considering that Minneapolis-St. Paul is one of the top 10-15 media markets in the U.S.

The driving factor in getting prime time spots on the NFL schedule, in my opinion, is simply having a solid, consistently successful football team.  Take a look at the schedules for the last few years and look at which teams have gotten a lot of prime time games.

New England - 3 Super Bowls in the decade thus far.  Suppose people want to see them?
Indianapolis - This team wins 12-14 games a year and is always a contender in the AFC
Philadelphia - Four straight NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl.

Those are just three examples.  On the other hand, if you take a look at some teams in bigger markets. . .

Chicago - One of the top 5 media markets in the nation.  But how many prime time games did the 2005 Bears (who went 11-5) get?  You know why?  Because the 2004 Bears sucked arse, and the networks thought nobody would want to see them in prime time.

New Orleans - Again, how many prime time games were the 2006 Saints scheduled for?  Why?  Because the 2005 Saints were freaking terrible, that's why.  How many are they scheduled for this year?  Exactly.  (I understand that New Orleans is no longer a "bigger" market, but it's an example of a team that was successful getting rewarded with prime time games the next season.)

Detroit and Arizona - When was the last time either of these teams have gotten significant prime time play?  They, like Minneapolis, are Top 15 media markets, but they don't get to play under the bright lights that often.

You can throw San Francisco and Houston in that category, too.

Teams that win get onto the big stage.  Why?  Because teams that win have a tendency to have more "bandwagon" fans than average to bad teams.  It's not just an NFL thing. . .this happens in every sport.  It's the nature of who we are as Americans. . .people always want to be associated with the best, whether it's the best car, the best house, the best clothes, whatever.  Teams like the Colts and Patriots and so on have more people that jump on the bandwagon than teams that aren't as consistently successful.

(Disclaimer:  I do NOT mean the above to imply that all Colts or Patriots fans are bandwagon jumpers.  Nobody thinks that's true.)

"But, Gonzo," I hear you saying, "the 2005 Packers went 4-12, and they still got a bunch of prime time games in 2006.  What gives?"  Well, there's probably a good, logical explanation for this.  I'll be damned if I can tell you what it is, but I'm sure there's one out there.  I have theories, but decorum prevents me from discussing them here.  I'll just say that the Packers are a "special" case and leave it at that for now.

By and large, I don't think the disparity in market sizes keeps teams from getting on prime time as much as their lack of success does.  This isn't Major League Baseball, where we get Yankees/Red Sox shoved down our throats for seven months (whether both teams are relevant to baseball's current landscape or not) because they're the two biggest teams from the two biggest markets with the two biggest payrolls and so on.  The Patriots get shoved down our throats because they win.  The Colts get shoved down our throats because they win.  The Bears and Saints will get shoved down our throats this year because they won.  If a team that's not expected to do much this year (such as Minnesota or Cleveland or Washington) has a successful season in 2007, you can bet they'll be on prime time a lot in 2008.

In many situations, big market NFL teams do have an advantage over small market (or, more accurately, "small revenue") teams.  This is one instance where I honestly believe that they do not.  The formula is much simpler than that. . .if you want to play on Sunday or Monday night, regardless of how big your team's market is, win more games.  The NFL's culture of parity allows teams to do just that on an annual basis.

Be sure to tune in next week for another installment of the SBN Small Market Roundtable!