If all goes according to plan, this Fall is going to be an all you can eat buffet of live sports. Triple Crown races, golf majors, plus NBA and NHL playoffs will invade what was already the best season of the year for sporting events. MLB, if they ever figure out the money, could also be extended by at least a month beyond what is normal. This begs the question of how the TV networks will handle everything.
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Here’s Outkick’s summary of what we’re looking at and how the networks are likely to handle it:
Under the presumable NBA schedule, Game 7 of the Finals would occur on October 12th. This means that the NBA is going to be taking place during 5-6 weeks of football season. Mondays are a little tricky because ESPN airs Monday Night Football and pays nearly $2 billion a year for their NFL package, but it’s not the worst thing in the world for them to air a big NBA playoffs game on ABC and MNF on ESPN.
The biggest challenge for them is going to come on Saturdays. ESPN and ABC air wall-to-wall college football. As FOX executive Michael Mulvihill explained to me a couple years ago, FOX and ESPN/ABC have a draft for their shared Big 10, Big 12, and Pac-12 rights. Due to the pandemic, this draft has not happened yet. ESPN/ABC also have SEC and ACC rights to grapple with. With all this college football scheduling still up in the air, the easiest solution here is that a bulk if not all Saturday NBA playoff games air on TNT. Perhaps on some occasions ESPN/ABC can thread needles and also carry an NBA playoff game or two.
The only big conflict CBS is going to have will be with The Masters, which got moved to November 12-15. CBS essentially solved this conflict by not carrying early-window NFL games on Sunday, November 15th. The Masters is likely to tee off early, to maximize the odds it will conclude before the 4pm ET NFL window. It’s presumable that they will have a similar setup on Saturday, where The Masters tees off early and the SEC Game of the Week does not kick off until late afternoon.
Losing the NCAA Tournament had massive impact for CBS, but that doesn’t really have any effect on what they have to figure out this Fall.
Of all the networks, FOX was least affected by the pandemic because their schedule is already tilted towards the Fall. They lost some NASCAR events that are in the process of being made up, but their core sports packages were largely untouched. MLB playoffs, if they happen, seem likely to be in November as opposed to October, but this isn’t the end of the world for FOX which already navigates balancing NFL, college football, and MLB together in that season. They’ll basically just be pushing the puzzle, which includes some MLB playoff games on FS1, one month later.
The US Open, September 17-20, will conflict a little bit with football. It wouldn’t be astonishing if the final Sunday round starts on FS1 and concludes on FOX — a look at the NFL slate that week indicates FOX has a lot of early window games, but CBS has the national window of the second part of the doubleheader.
NBC lost the Olympics for at least a year, but they don’t have too much of a challenge in scheduling for the Fall. The Kentucky Derby is on September 5th, a date where ESPN/ABC has the rights to Notre Dame-Navy. The Preakness is getting moved to October 3rd when they will be able to pair it with Wisconsin-Notre Dame for a big sports doubleheader. Weekend NHL playoff games will generally have to be wrapped around Notre Dame and Sunday Night Football matchups, which doesn’t sound like too enormous of an issue given that they also have NBCSN to work with.
Like CBS, AT&T’s networks lost the NCAA Tournament which obviously sucked but also doesn’t really have relevance in this exercise. Other than possibly having to take some more NBA playoff games on Saturdays because of what we talked about earlier with ABC and ESPN, they’re really not dramatically affected in the Fall since they don’t have any football. MLB playoff games air on TBS and will likely be deferred for a month.
[Display graphic by Michael Shamburger]