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Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Looking at fascinating flex decision

By Mike Reiss

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The story behind the NFL's decision to keep the Dec. 18 Patriots-Broncos game on CBS at 4:15 p.m. ET is fascinating from this perspective.

I'm not sure how much interest there is from Patriots followers other than the bottom-line decision -- it was either 4:15 p.m. on CBS or 8:20 p.m. on NBC -- but for those who might share my line of thinking, here are some of the interesting points from here:

1. Robert Kraft's role in the process. Would the chairman of the NFL's Broadcasting Committee really use his influence to keep the game on CBS because it is what the Patriots prefer? This is what some are suggesting, pointing out that Kraft and CBS have a business relationship (the CBS Scene restaurant is at Patriot Place). That could be the case, but I look at things differently. Maybe I'm naive, but I believe if the networks were switched and the same factors were in play, the same decision would be made because it was deemed as being most fair from a league perspective. A key consideration had to be that CBS released last week's Broncos-Vikings game to Fox when NBC's flex scheduling took Lions-Saints away from Fox. If that doesn't happen, I think Patriots-Broncos gets flexed to prime-time and there is no delay in the announcement. Had the NFL flexed the Patriots-Broncos game to NBC, it would have left CBS with one Broncos game in a five-week span (Weeks11-15).

2. NBC's point of view. As pointed out by Chad Finn of the Boston Globe, "NBC pays $650 million per year to air 18 NFL games, an extraordinary expenditure compared to the $622.5 million CBS pays for 102 AFC games." Given that financial commitment, one would think NBC is fuming at this decision. It would be understandable, as part of the reason it paid $650 million is the value of the flex toward the end of the season to ensure compelling matchups (they don't want to be stuck with Jaguars-Chargers or Rams-Seahawks, like the ESPN back-to-back slate last week and this week). That "flex" has been stripped away in this case. At the same time, while Patriots-Broncos figures to produce big ratings, I still think Chargers-Ravens has potential to be a better game.

3. When do games have to be protected? As part of flexible scheduling, CBS and Fox have the right to protect one game per week from being flexed to NBC. For Week 15, CBS chose Eagles-Jets over Patriots-Broncos. The decision to protect games must be made at some point before the Week 10 flexing period begins. If CBS had up until Week 10 to protect Patriots-Broncos and didn't, one could say the network has only itself to blame. If that decision had to be made well before the Week 10 flexing period began, perhaps it exposed a flaw in the system. It wouldn't seem fair that NBC could choose a game two weeks in advance, but CBS and Fox would have to protect a game much earlier than that. The feeling here is that should be changed.