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NFL wants later times, dates
By Rudy Martzke, USA TODAY
Although changes could be a few years away, NFL fans shouldn't get too comfortable on their couches.
In the next TV contract for 2006, February might be a month with more playoff games. And fans could have an extra hour of Sunday leisure.
The NFL has floated several proposals to the TV networks to alter programming. Which proposal do you think is the best?
Move back Sunday kickoff times an hour
Drop the AFC/NFC designations for Sunday games
Start the season one or two weeks later
Switch 'Monday Night Football' to Thursdays
Add a fifth package of games to another network
Moving back the start of the season at least a week and pushing back kickoff times for Sunday games are among the proposals former ESPN/ABC Sports President Steve Bornstein has asked the networks to consider in negotiations. Bornstein, hired as NFL executive vice president, is charged with boosting the rights fees from the current eight-year, $17.8 billion deal.
It is expected that negotiations could be conducted this fall, a year sooner than scheduled.
Two high-ranking network executives outlined the proposal, but Bornstein and officials from Fox, NBC, CBS, ABC/ESPN and HBO declined comment.
"I am aware of some of these discussion points," TV consultant Neal Pilson said Thursday. "I think it makes sense the league is consulting with its partners on how to improve the television packages. I'm sure the networks welcome being consulted."
IMG's Barry Frank said, "I certainly respect the fact the NFL should explore every possibility. I'd think everybody would agree on moving up the negotiations.
"It's a good time to be negotiating. The ratings are strong and business has picked up."
Other proposals the NFL has floated to the networks:
• Move back starting times for Sunday afternoon games on Fox and CBS an hour to 2 and 5 p.m. ET. A similar move in playoff games has resulted in higher ratings. CBS would probably be against the plan because it would further delay "60 Minutes," the network's highly successful news program.
• Drop the AFC/NFC delineations on Sunday afternoon games. Fox and CBS would alternately choose games when the schedule is determined in April.
• Move back the start of the season one to two weeks, with the goal of moving some of the playoffs into the February TV ratings sweeps period.
• Move ABC's Monday Night Football to Thursday. That probably won't happen as MNF's ratings improved last year and NBC and CBS have traditionally had stronger counter programming on Thursday.
• Add a fifth TV package of games, possibly on Thursday nights. TNT, HBO and Fox/Comcast figure to be interested in a new package that might be valued at $500 million to $800 million a year. If the NFL obtains 3% to 5% increases in the present packages, it likely would not pursue an extra TV partner.