Like everyone else, I get annoyed when a radio talk show host says something uninformed or silly. The ignorance of how TV benefits Buffalo sports teams troubles me the most.
I generally enjoy WGR host Chris "The Bulldog" Parker more than most hosts but he needs a course in television sports economics. Recently, he called ABC, which has carried "Monday Night Football" for 35 years, "greedy" because of its desire to get a flexible schedule in its next contract so late season games won't be dogs.
Even granting Parker the usual talk show allowance for hyperbole, that's unfair. ABC reportedly has been losing $150 million a year on a MNF deal that averages $550 million annually. Greedy wasn't the right word.
The WGR host was upset that the flexible schedule may disrupt the lives of Bills ticket holders, who expect to attend a Sunday game and might not be able to make it on Monday. As a season-ticket holder, I sympathize. But it really isn't much to worry about. In the past 10 years, the Bills have played one Monday night game at home and two on Sunday night. They've had 12 prime time home games in 20 years.
Such an occasional disruption is a small price to pay when they consider what a strong TV deal means to the Bills. The NFL's greed is good for the Bills and their fans. When the TV deals are maximized, those billions are shared equally by all NFL teams no matter market size. If it takes a disruption every two years for ABC, NBC or Fox to pay extra millions for a Monday schedule that still is bound to lose money, Bills fans should applaud.
The CBS and Fox renewals of Sunday deals through 2011 for rights fees increases of 25 percent to 30 percent may have exceeded the expectations of industry analysts. But considering inflation and remembering that rights fees doubled in the previous contract, it isn't a home run for Buffalo. Bills fans should applaud the fact Direct TV paid almost as much as CBS to renew its Sunday Ticket and root for Fox and NBC to drive up Disney's costs for ABC and ESPN packages.
The flexible schedule might not even help ABC that much. Granted, the last three Monday night games on this year's schedule look like they could be dogs because one or both opponents are below .500. But thanks to parity, rarely are there more than one or two games a week between winning teams. And if the Sunday doubleheader network gets the right to protect one game, ABC might not get a higher-rated game, anyway. The good teams could be in smaller markets, which generally aren't big ratings draws. Even in their glory years, the Bills Monday ratings weren't that high.
Another recent sports talk show issue also illustrated how little the talkers understand how NFL policies aid the Bills. When the Arizona game from Ralph Wilson Stadium was blacked out, the predictable talk show response was outrage that all the games aren't on TV even if they don't sell out. One host noted that the Buffalo Sabres televise their home games when they don't sell out, thinking that comparison meant something. It doesn't.
The Sabres, of course, play in a league in such financial ruin that it has locked out its players. Unlike football, hockey also doesn't translate well on television. The live NHL experience is much more attractive to most fans than watching on TV.
But even ignoring that, the blackout rule isn't helping big market teams. With their huge population areas and corporate support, they'll attract season ticket-holders even at much higher prices than charged in Buffalo and beat the blackout. The rule benefits smaller market teams like Buffalo, Jacksonville and New Orleans, whose ticket sales fluctuate with performance. Buffalo has the added issue of weather, which can hurt sales in December and January if the team's record goes South.
Without the threat of blackouts, season-ticket revenue might greatly diminish because fans may want to avoid paying for late-season games than can be as meaningless as the preseason games they already have to pay for. And if season-ticket holders flee, so might the Bills.
Which brings me to one final talk show comment. One of the examples that Parker used in his diatribe against the flexible schedule was the Bills finale with Pittsburgh on Jan. 2. He said he wouldn't want that game moved to Monday night if it meant something.
It was an unnecessary worry. The league doesn't schedule games on Monday night, Jan. 3, to avoid giving a playoff team an advantage or disadvantage the following weekend.