Last night, the Cincinnati Bengals were able to get their first win of the NFL season, a lackluster 19-16 win over a Los Angeles Rams team that has fallen extremely far since they were able to able to engineer a fourth quarter comeback win in their home stadium in Super Bowl 56. The Rams have now joined the Chargers, Giants and Jets at 1-2, which are all miles ahead of the 0-3 shit-show that are the current Chicago Bears, all but guaranteeing that the next several months in the top three TV markets for fans of local teams will be a struggle at best.
But with NFL, far and away the king of all things sports TV ratings, that’s immaterial. Thanks to gambling and fantasy sports, and now, with a little bit of help from the dating choices of some of its players (do check out today’s LEBLANGUAGE, won’t you?) , there’s scant little anywhere that commands more attention and eyeballs than the NATIONAL Football League. And it’s been that way for now at least two generations, and a large reason for that was when Roone Arledge and ABC Sports carved out a permanent place for a game to be played on Monday nights, giving the sport a home beyond Sunday afternoons and permanently etching a place in contemporary culture. It was just over 53 years ago when the fanfare that has accompanied the game was first played, Joe Namath and the New York Jets, champions of the sport just two years earlier, being the first-ever AFL-native opponent for the just-conference relocated Cleveland Browns, themselves not all that far removed from an NFL championship. The fact that neither of these franchises hasn’t even played in a Super Bowl since that Monday night game only reinforces the poignancy as well as the significance of the event.
And one of the few media executives who’s still in the game who actually worked on ABC’s Monday Night Football when it was far and away the most-watched sports event on television just happens to now run the Walt Disney Company. And our good friend Bob AIger has been thrown for a few losses of late, particularly by one Charter Corporation who effectively drew a line in the sand when they refused to renew the ABC-owned stations and its linear networks at the beginning of this month. As we covered extensively in this space, as did far more wide-read outlets, Charter was willing to punt on Disney’s demands for large rate increases despite making their top content almost universally available on their streaming services. Since Charter has learned through observing smaller carriers that nowadays there’s as much, if not more, potential profit to be made by being an ISP to carry those services than to be a content provider for networks that merely offer the potential to be seen with less buffering, they called Iger’s bluff and for 10 days drove millions of Luddite subscribers crazy with rage and flocking to alternative video distributors. It took the debut of Aaron Rodgers as a New York Jet–on Monday Night Football–to force an early settlement, which four plays into it effectively made it a moot point and what amounts to a loss for Disney, whose stock price has still been struggling.
But this has also been a summer of strikes, and has created a de facto force mejeure situation for broadcasters, who have not hesistated to open up windows on their content to cover their networks for this “unforeseen” emergency. And so despite the fact that with the exception of some early-season doubleheaders that have been carved out to give the sport a temporary boost Monday Night Football has been exclusively an ESPN property since NBC took over Sunday night rights–and the title of most-watched prime time show–since 2006, ABC had a powerful and nuclear option at their disposal to fill their void, which last week they chose to exercise. As CNN BUSINESS’ Jordan Valinsky reported:
“Monday Night Football” is back on ABC because of the ongoing strikes disrupting Hollywood.
The Disney-owned network announced Monday that it’s adding ten more NFL games to its schedule and broadcasting the entire fall season of “Monday Night Football.” The change helps plug a hole in ABC’s schedule for the rest of the year since scripted programming isn’t returning for the foreseeable future.
Eight “Monday Night Football” games were already going to air on ABC this season, but Monday’s change increases the number to 18. The games are simulcasts from ABC’s sister channel ESPN.
In total, ABC will air 20 games, including a Saturday afternoon game on January 6 and a playoff game over the January 20 weekend. The games will also give ABC a ratings boost since NFL games are regularly the most-watched shows on TV.
Here are the games ABC just added to its schedule, which will also be aired on ESPN and ESPN Deportes. Kickoff is at 8:15 pm ET.
- Seahawks at Giants (October 2)
- Packers at Raiders (October 9)
- Cowboys at Chargers (October 16)
- 49ers at Vikings (October 23)
- Raiders at Lions (October 30)
- Chargers at Jets (November 6)
- Broncos at Bills (November 13)
- Bears at Vikings (November 27)
- Bengals at Jaguars (December 4)
- Chiefs at Patriots (December 18)
And let’s just say that while the move was thoroughly defendable from ABC and Iger’s standpoint, it hasn’t sat all that well with cable and satellite providers. As AWFUL ANNOUNCING reported last week:
While ESPN and ABC feel as though they’re doing what they have to do to keep some eyeballs on the broadcast network, distributors that carry those networks are furious with the plan. According to Sports Business Journal, cable companies are upset that Disney is “double-dipping” by making companies pay for ESPN and ABC when they are airing the same premier programming. Distributors are paying a huge price for ESPN because of their exclusive live sports programming. Not so that it can also be shown free-to-air on ABC.
Distributors are upset by Disney’s move because ESPN costs more to carry than any other pay-TV channel. Plus, the retransmission consent fee that distributors pay to carry ABC also is high.
“This whole double-dipping on the backs of distributors is just ridiculous,” one distribution executive said. “This is not going to endear the Walt Disney Co. to its distribution partners. Its flagship content was supposed to sit within ESPN. The fact that it has now sprung free to ABC to cover the fact that they aren’t willing to pay actors and screenwriters is BS.”
But the fact of the matter is football is far, far more potent a programming weapon than anything any network or entity can offer, exclusive or not. The doubleheader that featured the Rodgers debut airing on ABC exclusively after a Saints-Panthers game began an hour earlier on ESPN produced the largest Monday night audience for the combined entities since the ABC-exclusive days. Last night’s Rams-Bengals matchup was accompanied by an earlier-starting contest between the NFC champion Eagles and somehow still-unfeated Tampa Bay (that quickly changed with the Iggles’ convincing 25-11 conquest of the now Tom Brady-less Bucs) and is likely to produce eight-figure audiences again.
Besides, as the SBJ observation cited by AWFUL ANNOUNCING concluded, a lot of the grumpiness from the distrubution executives may be nothing more than posturing and the grudging observation that in a world desperate for something that can still draw a mass audience, even a shared window is a win:
On the bright side, one distribution executive said Disney’s simulcast with ESPN and ABC would have less of an impact because it’s keeping viewers in the bundle. This executive gets more agitated when programming is shared with a direct-to-consumer streaming service that acts as an incentive to get customers to cut the cord.
So score this round for the old boxing production assistant Iger, ever the pugnacious pugilist. And if you are on the side of the cable operators, just take a look at the teams that are going to be playing in the coming months on ABC. Giants, Jets, Chargers (twice) and Bears. Two looks at the 0-3 RAY-DAHHHHs. A Denver Broncos team that just allowed an NFL opponent to score 70 points on a team for the first time since, well, before there was ABC’s Monday Night Football.
And I assure you, people will still watch. Because it’s still, even after all this time, ABC’s MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL.
After all, the booth even today includes a top-notch broadcaster and a former Dallas Cowboys quarterback.
Oh, and that other guy? Well, he was once the boss and colleague of the guy now calling the shots for it all.
Nice to see those of us old enough to remember all of this still have a puncher’s chance.