Fox and CBS on Thursday lashed out at the NFL’s decision to make them declare after just the fourth week of games which late-season contests they want to protect from being moved to NBC.
After CBS and Fox each pick a total of five games they want to protect over the last eight weeks, NBC then has the right to cherry pick the games it wants to fill out its Sunday night schedule as part of the new "flex-scheduling" plan that begins in the tenth week of the 17-week season.
The networks contend the league is in essence making them choose their top games later in the season after seeing each team play just three or four times.
"We’re disappointed that the league’s guidelines for the flexible schedule seem unfair to the Sunday afternoon broadcasters," says Fox Sports President Ed Goren. "We knew that the flexible schedule was part of the deal, but we were led to believe that the process wouldn’t put any network at a disadvantage. This plan almost guarantees that one or both networks will protect the wrong game on any given Sunday."
CBS Sports chief Sean McManus, who divulged the NFL’s decision on a Thursday conference call, expressed frustration that his network could not wait until later in the season to pick which games to protect.
"They are making the rules and we are living by them, obviously," says McManus of the NFL.
After McManus broke the news on the conference call, the NFL later issued a statement from Howard Katz, senior vice president of broadcasting, saying the time frame "will allow us to ensure that the flexible schedule is administered fairly for our fans, teams and network partners. We have analyzed this extensively, including running models last season and getting input from team committees. This timing allows teams to play their way onto primetime and assures that all of our network partners will have attractive match-ups throughout the season. We will continue to monitor this throughout the season."
While predicting the effect will be "fairly minimal" on CBS and Fox, McManus did acknowledge he understood why the league is catering to NBC, which begins its $600 million-per-year deal to carry Sunday night games as the NFL shifts its Monday night package to cable on ESPN.
"The NFL has a lot riding on NBC being very successful in primetime," he says. "We just want to make sure they don’t do it at the expense of CBS."
McManus added that regarding the flex-scheduling policy, the NFL will "see how it works this year and then adjust as necessary."
NBC Universal Sports & Olympics Chairman Dick Ebersol said Wednesday NBC will be giving the NFL its request at least 12 days prior to each Sunday once flex-scheduling begins, with the NFL announcing which game NBC will carry 12 days out.
The two exceptions are the second-to-last week, which is set for Eagles-Cowboys on Christmas Day, and the final week, in which the flex-scheduling decision will be made only six days before the game.