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Volume 23 No. 29
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Playbook changes again for advertising market

Advertisers were asking networks about any openings to shift their dollars to NFL games.
Photo: getty images

Even before the Big Ten and Pac-12 officially punted on their football seasons — while rumors of the coming cancellations were making the rounds — the television ad sales community went into overdrive.

August is not usually a busy time for network ad sales departments despite the run-up to football season because most ad sales packages for highly rated football games are sold earlier in the year. Last week, though, TV network executives fielded numerous calls from advertisers looking into the possibility of moving their ad schedules from college into the NFL, several sources said.

The problem: TV network executives had just as many questions about the fall as the advertisers.

The biggest question centers on whether there will be any college football games at all this fall. Soon after the Big Ten and Pac-12 canceled their fall seasons, the ACC, Big 12 and SEC conferences each said that they were moving forward with plans to play football in the fall. Still, network executives privately expressed a healthy amount of skepticism about whether those games will take place as planned.

Most network executives are much more optimistic about the NFL. But they don’t know exactly when those games would take place.

Of course, the NFL will have a Sunday schedule. But the league also is looking into moving games to Saturday if there’s no college football. That decision will come from the league; network executives have little say in whether the NFL should make those moves.

To underscore the scope of the confusion in media companies, at least two media companies spent part of last week looking into whether federal regulations would allow the NFL to move games to Saturdays.

While there is a clause in the 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act that says the NFL can't compete with college football on Saturdays, sources believe that regulation will be rendered moot if there is no college football.

The main potential hiccup to moving NFL games to Saturday is that local broadcast affiliates have the right to preempt network-scheduled programming. But that’s a far-fetched scenario. There’s not an affiliate in the country that would pull top-rated NFL programming, especially not this fall.