Media Circus: A proposal to change the Super Bowl kickoff time and more.
If you are under 25 and reading this column, you have lived your entire life having never experienced a Super Bowl kickoff earlier than 6:19 p.m. ET. Of course it wasn’t always that way. The Packers and Chiefs kicked off Super Bowl I at 4:15 p.m. ET in Los Angeles and the following nine Super Bowls all had starting game times prior to 4 p.m. ET. It wasn’t until 1978 when the first post-6 p.m. Super Bowl kickoff was introduced as the Cowboys and Broncos kicked off Super Bowl XII at 6:17 p.m. ET. But even as late as 1990, NFL viewers experienced a game that kicked before 6 p.m: The Niners and Broncos began Super Bowl XXIV in New Orleans at 5:23 p.m. ET.
Obviously, that’s no longer the case. Last year Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka booted the opening kick of Super Bowl XLIX at 6:30 p.m. ET and the prior year saw a 6:32 p.m. ET start for the Seahawks-Broncos. Over the past 25 years, kickoff times have fluctuated from a bedtime friendly 6:19 p.m. in 1991 (Super Bowl XXV in Tampa) to a bleary-eyed high of 6:40 p.m. in 2002 (Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans). Since Super Bowl XXV (Giants-Bills), every Super Bowl has had a kickoff time after 6 p.m. ET. This handy 2014 chart from Gawker offers the history of Super Bowl times through 2014.
I started thinking about the kickoff time of the Super Bowl this month because I believe there’s a better time for viewers. So during a conference call with CBS Sports officials last week, I asked CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus—his network is airing this year’s game at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT from Santa Clara—if he thought there was a better time for a Super Bowl kickoff.
“I think it [the current time] works pretty well,” McManus said. “One of the priorities for us obviously is getting a one-hour show as close to being in prime time as we can. So having the game start at 6:30 p.m. ET is a good time. It's not too early, not too late, and it allows us to do a primetime show after our postgame show. I think if it was earlier you might hurt your audience a little bit just because the viewing households using television might be lower. I think 6:30 feels like the right time to me.”
His reasoning makes sense as a network executive who does not want to deviate from what has been a successful television formula. The NFL has set Super Bowl viewership records the last two years—the current mark is 114.4 million viewers for Super Bowl XLIX—and CBS said it is charging clients between $4.6 million and a little north of $5 million for a 30-second spot, according to Ad Age. While there is little incentive for networks to change, I think there’s a familiar kickoff time that’s better for the multiple parties involved including the players, the league and television networks.
That time is 4:30 p.m. ET.
Why? An earlier kickoff time would encourage more of a commitment to the full game on the East Coast, communal and otherwise, because Super Bowl parties would end at a more reasonable time (given Monday is a work day, you’d also be looking at significantly higher productivity for the economy thanks to fewer tired workers). A 1:30 p.m. West Coast start time would be very appealing to those viewers because it would still offer plenty of afternoon options following the game.
The quality of the game itself would also likely improve because it’s more reflective of a normal game day.
“I always hated waiting around for the game because it takes you out of your normal gameday routine and with the enormity of this particular game, I think you can have an adverse effect on the players,” said ESPN NFL analyst and green chili maven Mark Schlereth, a three-time Super Bowl winner. “Waiting around with all that nervous energy that accompanies this game can really hurt the on field production for some individuals that don't handle it well. I get the TV ratings but, hell, it’s played on Sunday. I don't see why 4 or 4:30 Eastern kickoff wouldn't work for television and at least give the players and coaches some semblance of a normal game.”
The ratings issue is the one that would scare the league and networks the most. After all, the Super Bowl at its core is one big television show. If you have a great game climaxing around 10 p.m., you have 1/3 of the country watching in prime time. But I’d argue the Super Bowl is the one television event where time of day would not impact the ratings. The most-watched window in television during the NFL regular season is the late afternoon window on Sunday [4:35–8 p.m.] so you already have sports fans conditioned to watching football in that window. As for the loss of potential ad revenue from a shorter block of Super Bowl pregame shows, I’d extend the postgame show to include live press conferences from each teams (networks could charge significant rates for the postgame show). As for McManus’s thought about networks wanting to highlight the entertainment division after the game, the earlier conclusion to Super Bowl coverage (say 9:30 p.m. ET or so after a postgame) would give entertainment divisions extra time to add a second show into the coveted post-Super Bowl spot.
There’s also this: The earlier start would give fans more daylight to battle existing traffic, plus it’s statistically safer to drive in the day. If the game is held on the West Coast or the South, you are left with the remainder of the afternoon to enjoy the sun. If you are holding the game in a cold weather city, such as Minneapolis in 2018, the earlier start time obviously offers warmer weather heading to the game and leaving the game.
Few people are better positioned to offer an intelligent opinion on this topic than Jim Steeg, the former senior vice president of special events for the NFL. Steeg led the production of 26 Super Bowls (1979 to 2004) during his 35 years with the league. He agreed that the current time is tough for East Coast viewers and suggested the league could move the Super Bowl kickoff to different times depending on the location and time zone of the game. He stressed to keep in mind that too early a start on the West Coast would impact the players (think how early they’d have to leave their hotels for the game) as well as the fans.
Steeg recalled that for Super Bowl XVI in Detroit in January 1982, CBS changed the kickoff time of the Super Bowl during the 1981 regular season from 5 p.m. to 4:20 p.m. ET. The league ended up having reprint all its tickets.
“In those days the arguments were—and I don’t think they hold much water anymore—getting into prime time,” Steeg said. “It kind of proves not to be true because a Super Bowl is unlike anything else out there.”
During his tenure, Steeg said the league wanted to get the game off by 10 p.m. so the Super Bowl rightsholder could air its hot new show in primetime. He recalled that The A-Team was the first big show to be broadcast after the Super Bowl when NBC aired Mr. T and Co. following Super Bowl XVII between Washington and Miami in January 1983. Steeg said that the lighting of the game needs to be taken into play for any kickoff change—games on the West Coast often start in light and finish in dark—and the league selfishly wants the halftime show in the dark for better aesthetics.
“My thought is I think the kickoff time could float a little bit because you do have people going to their Super Bowl party and then having to go home and go to work the next day,” Steeg said. “I think it’s part of the reason the NFL has openly stated they want to get the Super Bowl pushed back to President’s Weekend. Then you can get the holiday the next day.”
If that happens, I’ll humbly pull my 4:30 p.m. ET proposal off the table.
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examines some of the most notable sports media stories of the week)
1. SI.com has learned SportsCenter will be making significant changes to its morning and late-morning programming. The plan as of the moment: The new 7–10 a.m. ET team will consist of Kevin Negandhi, Jaymee Sire and Jay Harris, with Sarina Morales providing occasional contributions. Hannah Storm is expected to get her own solo bloc from 10–11 a.m. ET. Jay Crawford and Chris McKendry will co-host from 11–noon ET. The 12–2 ET time slot will consist of a co-host setup with Cari Champion based in Los Angeles and David Lloyd in Bristol.
SportsCenter faces unique challenges in 2016 due to consumer habits changing, especially among young people who can get highlights via social media and elsewhere. Ratings for the brand have declined—not to mention continued cord cutting from ESPN—and ESPN upper management continues to search for rebranding answers. Talent, of course, is one of the most subjective things in sports broadcasting. We’ll soon see how these new groups mesh.
1a. NFL fans (especially in New York and Indianapolis) will recall the name of Raul Allegre as a solid placekicker and two-time Super Bowl winner with the Giants. Today, Allegre is the color commentator on ESPN Deportes’s coverage of Monday Night Football and next Sunday he will have a huge assignment: He and play-by-play broadcaster Alvaro Martin will call the first Super Bowl telecast for ESPN Deportes.
How did ESPN land a Super Bowl that will air in the States? The NFL, CBS Sports and ESPN reached a broadcast agreement to grant Deportes the exclusive Spanish-language coverage of Super Bowl 50 on television, radio and WatchESPN. The channel’s Super Bowl Sunday coverage will feature nine hours of live coverage led by SportsCenter editions throughout the day, followed by a 90-minute NFL Super Bowl pregame special at 4:30 p.m. and a postgame show.
“It’s a big honor,” said Allegre. “ESPN has many, many channels and we are the first to be able to broadcast a Super Bowl.... I know from the very top executives down from ESPN, all of those guys are very aware of what we are doing. We’ll be doing a lot of promotion on what we call the domestic channel for it.”
The “domestic” channel for Allegre refers to ESPN and ESPN2, and you’ll see him this week promoting the telecast on SportsCenter, Mike & Mike and NFL Live.
Of course, calling a Super Bowl is old hat for Allegre, who has called the final game of the NFL season 17 times including for ESPN International since 2003. But this is the first time he will broadcast a Super Bowl game for an ESPN channel airing in the States. It will be the 11th Super Bowl he and Martin have called together. Allegre said he expects the Deportes audience to be made up mostly of U.S. Hispanics who are first- and-second generation Americans, as well as bilingual curiosity seekers.
“We have a challenge,” Allegre said. “Alvaro is as a prepared as anyone out there calling games but our job is two-fold because our audience is very wide. We go from broadcasting to a very sophisticated audience that knows football X’s and O’s in Mexico and Latin America. They expect an analytical broadcast. But we also have a lot of fans who are new to the NFL. These are fans who are curious about the sport so you don’t want make the broadcast too complicated so they get lost. The challenge is to make analysis accessible to the new fans but also make it knowledgeable enough for the fans that are sophisticated and expect in-depth analysis."
Martin and Allegre call Monday Night Football weekly from a studio in Bristol, which means significant travel weekly for Allegre. He flies early Monday morning out of Austin to New York or Hartford and returns home on Tuesday. He then films an NFL Live show for Deportes in Mexico City on Thursdays. Allegre estimates he travels close to 6,000 miles a week.
“I’m closing in on three million miles lifetime on American Airlines,” he said, laughing.
Allegre was a Giants teammate of Phil Simms, who will call the game for CBS, though Simms has the much better booth in the center of the field (The ESPN Deportes crew will be stationed in the corner of the end zone in the upper deck). Given his former life, Allegre said he feels a kinship to Super Bowl kickers.
“That game is not just another game,” Allegre said. “People have that cliché that they will treat it like another game, but it is not. It will change your life for good or for bad. As a placekicker, you are bound to be in a situation where you are going to make a difference.”
1b. On Thursday, SI.com reported that ESPN’s signature NFL pregame show, Sunday NFL Countdown, will be changing next September. Keyshawn Johnson will not be returning to ESPN following the conclusion of his contract, which ends at the end of this NFL season. Johnson joined ESPN in 2007 as an NFL studio analyst on the same day he announced his retirement from the National Football League. He had appeared on various ESPN and ESPN Radio programs over the years including ESPN’s highest profile NFL studio show. The network opted not to renew his contract.
As for who will replace Johnson, ESPN has a lot of quality NFL voices amid its roster (Louis Riddick and Ryan Clark have been very strong, in particular) and there are always high-profile players who retire (such as Charles Woodson) and coaches (such as Lovie Smith) who become available. Tedy Bruschi is also thought of highly in-house.
1c. FS1 is making significant changes to Fox Sports Live. A Fox Sports spokesperson declined comment on any specific changes, but an industry source said the new show will have little in the way of news, reporting and highlights. Here’s the SI.com story on it.
2. David Feherty will make his NBC debut next Thursday in the 18th tower as the lead analyst for Golf Channel’s first and second round coverage. He'll then move to his familiar on-course reporter role during Saturday-Sunday afternoon coverage on NBC, with Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller moving into the 18th tower position. At the end of February, Feherty is scheduled to join the broadcast team on Golf Channel and NBC for a stretch of five consecutive weeks, including The Honda Classic (Feb. 25–28) in Palm Beach Gardens; WGC-Cadillac Championship (March 3–6) in Miami; Valspar Championship (March 10–13) outside of Tampa; the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard (March 17–20) in Orlando; and the WGC-Dell Match Play (March 23–27) in Austin, Texas.
“I'm really looking forward to getting started with my new crew,” Feherty said on a conference call last week. “The 18th tower as a lead analyst is something that I've been thinking about, and I'm pretty nervous about it to be honest with you. But I've worked with [Golf Channel host] Rich Lerner—he's one of the best in the business. That, along with a completely new production style, new members of our production crew, I'm not sure what's really expected of me. I just hope to be informative and entertaining, in that order.”
2a. The Warriors-Spurs telecast on Jan. 25 drew 1.4 million total viewers to become NBA TV’s most-viewed telecast ever (including regular season and playoffs).
Previously, NBA TV’s most-viewed game telecast was Game 6 of the 2014 NBA playoffs first-round series between the Hawks and Pacers (1,071,000 total viewers). Overall, NBA TV’s live game telecasts are averaging 317,000 total viewers this season, up 10% when compared with the same time period last year.
2b. The debut edition of NBA Saturday Primetime (Cavs-Bulls on ABC on Jan. 23) averaged 3.92 million viewers and peaked with 4.534 million viewers. NBA Countdown, which preceded the game at 8 p.m., averaged 2.44 million viewers, the best viewership for a regular-season, non-Christmas NBA Countdown show since March 11, 2012.
2c. Fox’s telecast last week of Villanova-Providence averaged 905,000 viewers to become Fox’s most-watched Big East men’s college basketball game (featuring two conference teams). The network said only one other men’s college basketball game on Fox has attracted a bigger audience than Providence-Villanova: last year’s Duke at St. John’s game (2.2 million viewers) where Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski won his 1,000th career game.
3. Episode No. 39 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Williams, who recently published a memoir this week titled Life Is Not An Accident: A Memoir of Reinvention.
In this episode, Williams talks in-depth about his struggles initially in broadcasting, how former colleague Doug Gottlieb would, in Williams’s words, try to embarrass him on-air and point out his mistakes early in his time at ESPN, his depression and dependency on OxyContin following the end of his NBA career, his suicide attempts, whether Duke coach Krzyzewski would enter broadcasting full time, his double date with Serena Williams, NBA players smoking marijuana during his era and more.
Williams is currently dating Fox Sports host (and former guest on this podcast) Charissa Thompson, and he talks frankly about what they’ve faced as an interracial public couple and the challenges of dating someone in the same profession.
A reminder: you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher, and you can view all of SI’s podcasts here. If you have any feedback, questions or suggestions, please comment here or tweet at me.
4. Non-sports pieces of note:
• From Popular Mechanics: The highest recommendation for this oral history of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
• What caused the wreck of Amtrak 188?
• Monica Davey’s NYT story inspired Making a Murderer. A decade later, she heads back to Manitowoc. Wisc.
• What happened to Jane Mayer when she wrote about the Koch Brothers.
• From The Moscow Times: The Litvinenko Affair: An Anglo-Russian Exercise in Futility.
• New York Daily News writer Andy Martino spent months with a homeless man in New York City. This is his story.
• Via NPR: 30 Years After Explosion, Challenger Engineer Still Blames Himself.
• The Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale on modern-day segregation in Milwaukee .
Sports pieces of note:
• Outside The Lines had a devastating report on Baylor University facing accusations of ignoring sex assault victims
• Cedar Rapids Gazette sports columnist Mike Hlas on Tyler Sash’s love of football
• NYT writer Ben Rothenberg on tennis match fixing.
• Charlotte Observer columnist Scott Fowler on Cam Newton.
• Why do sports fans go to great lengths for a rolled-up T-shirt?
• The MMQB’s Robert Klemko caught up with Timmy Smith, who rushed for 204 yards in the Super Bowl.
• From Adam Flango of Cincinnati Magazine: The story of Prince Sammons and his journey from impoverished Nigerian teen to a top college football recruit.
• John Scott opened up about his controversial NHL All-Star appearance for the Players’ Tribune. Terrific read.
• One of the coolest things SI has done. Here's a sortable microsite for the greatest Super Bowl photos
5. The Boston Globe’s Chad Finn profiled FS1 host Katie Nolan, a Massachusetts native.
5a. SBJ’s John Ourand profiled longtime CBS broadcaster Lesley Visser.
5b. Yahoo!’s The Vertical debuted this week and profiled Nets play-by-play announcer Chris Carrino, who battles Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD).
5c. Fox landed multi-platform English media rights (Univision has the Spanish rights) to the 2016 Copa America Centenario soccer tournament in June, a terrific event that features the national teams from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and the United States among others. The network said it will televise all 32 matches live across 10 venues nationwide from June 3 to June 26, with matches appearing on Fox, FS1 and FS2.
5d. There's now a fund to help the family of ESPN's Ted Brown, who tragically passed away at age 36 this month. Go here.