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From the couch: NCAA's hostage situation
A longtime USC season-ticket holder I know (yes, despite being a UCLA grad, I do occasionally associate with such people) recently gave up his seats. After years of schlepping down to the Los Angeles Coliseum to watch the Trojans stomp on opponents, he grew tired of attending night games that — given traffic and parking — barely got him home for late local news.
Against this backdrop, it was amusing to see Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott (launching a public-relations offensive on behalf of the conference) say his office intends to be “more flexible” in terms of scheduling games to suit TV networks’ needs.
The notion that TV sets the weekend schedule hardly comes as a news flash, and the networks pay billions for the privilege. But the idea of providing them with greater leeway — given the amount of sway they already possess — seems laughable for those who actually attend games.
As it stands, season tickets arrive to most major-program collegiate games with “TBD” stamped on them, allowing networks to survey the playing field and decide which contender goes when. For my buddy who roots for USC — which, given its western dominance, kept winding up slotted for primetime on the East Coast — that meant so long to warm Southern California afternoons and hello to football beneath the lights.
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The real issue, though, boils down to not knowing when a game you’re planning to attend is going to start. Beyond sports, in fact, it’s hard to think of another form of entertainment where you’re asked to block out an entire day when purchasing tickets.
Oh, you want to see the new comedy “Dinner for Schmucks”? Sure, it’ll be this weekend, just plan on being available for the noon, 3, 6 or 9 p.m. showings. Going to a concert? Just pencil in “Saturday,” and we’ll get back to you on when the headliner’s playing. Maybe taking in a play? Fine. Plunk down your $100, and we’ll let you know later whether it’s for the matinee or the evening performance.
The advantages of flexible scheduling are obvious TV-wise, and it was considered a major coup for NBC when the network landed that concession for NFL games in 2006. The deal gives NBC the right to choose any Sunday afternoon game for an 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff 12 days in advance beginning Week 11, shrinking to six days in Week 17 “to ensure a game with playoff implications.”
“Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change … and should plan accordingly,” the league’s website says.
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Of course, TV has dictated schedules for years, and by moving virtually every big event to primetime has created an inherent problem for the leagues: Sure, they’ll get bigger ratings, but if games drag on 'til midnight or later, it’s hard for kids — presumably the next generation of fans — to stay awake.
FOX has shown some sensitivity to the matter — moving World Series starts a bit earlier in 2009 — and Major League Baseball recently proposed shifting the season by a few days in 2011 to ensure the Series concludes in October — potentially sparing fans the image of turtleneck-clad players straining to avoid frostbite. Still, as FOX Sports Media Group Vice Chairman Ed Goren told USA Today last year, afternoon games would probably reduce ratings by 30 percent, “and there would be an economic impact to that.”
Just like there are consequences (especially if you’re married to someone who doesn’t give a damn) on planning weekends around TV’s timetable. Unlike my buddy the 'SC alum, though, most fans just keep anteing up, dutifully blocking out whole days and letting the great TV gods dictate our schedules.
Kind of makes you wonder who the schmucks really are.
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