Are you ready for some football? Oh, you think so, huh? How about 14 hours of it? That’s all of Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia trilogy — and then five more hours.
But “14 Hours of Football!” is how the NFL promoted its Sunday slate on Oct. 6, complete, even, with a #14hoursoffootball promotional hashtag. The first games kicked off at 1 p.m. Eastern, as they normally do, but scheduling conflicts at the O.co Coliseum — the Tigers and the Athletics played a Division Series game there Saturday night — pushed the kickoff of the day’s final game, Chargers-Raiders, from 4:25 until 11:30 p.m. Eastern. (An evening start would have violated NBC’s exclusivity window for Sunday Night Football.) When Oakland took a final knee at 2:38 a.m. Monday, 818 minutes had elapsed between the football day’s beginning and its end. That’s not precisely 14 hours, but one doubts any football fan was left wanting.
Cycling back through Twitter Monday morning — I had no choice but to do this, since an evident melatonin surplus conked me out circa 11:45 p.m on Sunday — it seemed that those who had stayed up enjoyed the drawn-out day. “Felt like an NCAA Tournament first round Thursday today,” tweeted Fox Sports’s Peter Schrager. Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King asked his Twitter followers, closing the polls at 7 a.m., and found 96 in favor to doing this kind of thing on a regular basis, with 36 opposed.
One can understand why: The setup resembled college football’s Saturday arrangement, where games run throughout the day. Are you an early-rising East Coaster in bed by 8 p.m.? You’ll be able to catch Gameday through all of the big SEC game on CBS. Are you a West Coaster who sleeps off a hangover until noon local time on Sundays? You, too, will be able to catch the big SEC game — and you can keep watching until 10:30 p.m. your time, through the end of all the Pac-12 action. And insomniacs all over get lucky when Hawaii has a home game: those kick off at midnight Eastern time.
While the NFL usually stiffs tardy risers on the West Coast, college football welcomes any circadian rhythm the four time zones might have to offer. On Sunday, the NFL finally gave its western fans some variety. So might we see a regular game at this hour in the future?
The ratings say no, an NFL Network spokesman says. The game averaged a 1.7 rating nationwide (approximately 2.5 million television sets), according to Nielsen’s overnights. The average rating in 2013 for Thursday Night Football, the NFL Network’s flagship franchise, is a 5.2 (and about 8.5 million TVs). That’s what having an awake audience on the East Coast — and no possible fatigue from 10 and a half prior hours of football — does for the league. The number was good for cable, and good for that hour, but not good enough to suggest the possibility of a future broadcast package.
Neal Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports, said that the league likely wouldn’t bother with any package outside of prime time in the Eastern and Central time zones. That’s where most NFL teams play, and that’s where most football fans (and Americans) reside.
However paltry its national numbers, the NFL did make the best of a bad situation. The game rated well in both markets, plus Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Sacramento, and the league got a handful of calls from happy West Coasters, who finally got to see full games of under-the-lights drama in their backyard. Those viewers also got the benefit of excellent broadcasters Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts, who usually work exclusively on CBS.
Why Eagle and Fouts? If not for the time change, the game would have been a CBS game. By the time MLB announced the A’s would play late on Saturday, CBS had already booked its crew’s travel arrangements and rented broadcast equipment in Oakland. Rather than send its own crew out, the NFL Network agreed to use CBS’s team and pay its production costs — good thinking, since usual NFL Net broadcasters Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock had already called games on both Thursday and Saturday.
And, yes, right, because the game was scheduled for 4:25 p.m. Eastern on CBS, there was one other little perk. The West Coast markets (San Diego, Oakland, other California parts) that would have gotten Chargers-Raiders in the early afternoon wound up instead with the 51-48 Broncos-Cowboys thriller. Do you think anyone minded?