SBJ/October 30 - November 5, 2006/This Weeks News

Flex games offer boost for ‘SNF’

Media buyers were practically giddy after the announcement that NBC’s first flex schedule game Nov. 12 would match teams from the NFL’s two biggest markets, the Chicago Bears and New York Giants.

The flex schedule allowed the NFL to move this
season’s Bears-Giants game Nov. 12 to NBC.

Every media buyer contacted for this story believes that the broadcaster’s late-season flex schedule, under which the NFL handpicks the games for NBC, will increase “Sunday Night Football” ratings by anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent.

“The flex schedule is doing what it’s designed to do and what we expected it to do,” said Sam Sussman, media director at Chicago-based Starcom.

Ad buyers generally have been disappointed by NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” ratings, which have averaged a 10.8 rating/12.07 million households through the first six Sunday-night games, not including its Thursday-night season opener.

Ad buyers have been particularly concerned that NBC’s ratings have dropped each week, from the “Manning Bowl,” which pitted Peyton Manning’s Colts against Eli Manning’s Giants and posted a 14.2 rating, to the Oct. 15 Raiders-Broncos game, which pulled a 7.9 rating.

Several ad buyers said it was likely that NBC would have to grant make-goods by the end of the year because of lower-than-expected ratings for the season’s first half.

By comparison, ESPN, a cable network that is in 19 million fewer homes, is averaging a 10.8/9.96 million homes through the season’s first seven weeks.

“It’s the NFL, so the ratings are never going to be awful,” said Carat USA’s Mike Law. “We expect NBC’s flex games to rate as highly as weeks 1 to 4.”

“Sunday Night Football” ratings ranged from 14.2 to 10.8 in the season’s first four weeks. In the two following weeks, it failed to crack double digits.

“I would have liked a little bit more offense in a couple of games along the way, but the bottom line is we’ve had six telecasts, and four of the six have been higher rated than the comparable Monday-night game of a year ago, which is our benchmark,” NBC Universal Sports and Olympics Chairman Dick Ebersol said during a conference call last week.

While optimistic that the Giants-Bears game could pull a similar rating to the Sept. 10 Giants-Colts game, Sussman warned that the network’s Sunday night games faced new challenges in November.

Competition from other networks will be tougher, since they will be in the middle of November sweeps. Furthermore, he said, opening weekend numbers typically are higher than those for the rest of the year.

If anything, the flex schedule will ensure that NBC doesn’t fall into the same rut as ABC.  Not one of ABC’s last nine December  “Monday Night Football” games featured two teams with winning records.

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