Tom Brady's move to Tampa Bay didn't just create ripples with fans. It caused networks to drastically rework their last-minute requests with the NFL scheduling office to make sure the Buccaneers got as many high-profile dates as possible.
When the NFL's regular-season schedule was announced Thursday night, however, all of the league television partners were satisfied with how Tampa Bay's games were distributed. The Bucs are slated to make five prime-time appearances (one Thursday and two each on Sundays and Mondays) with all of them slated from the fifth to the 12th week of the regular season.
That's a pretty big audible for a team that was expected to have maybe two such games — at best — before signing Brady, the former longtime New England quarterback who led the Patriots to nine Super Bowls and six championships.
Pending developments in the coronavirus pandemic, Tampa Bay's opener at New Orleans on Sept. 13 will be Fox's featured "America's Game of the Week," as will the Oct. 18 game against the Green Bay Packers. CBS will showcase the Bucs in the 4:25 p.m. window on Nov. 29, when they host the Kansas City Chiefs, the reigning Super Bowl champions. Fox — which has the NFC and Thursday night packages — has Tampa Bay nine times; CBS, ESPN and NBC each has the Bucs twice. Their Week 16 game at Detroit will be on either Fox or NFL Network, which will be determined later in the season.
Fox has five of Tampa Bay's first six games, including its first prime-time game on Thursday, Oct. 8, at Chicago.
"I can't think of a single player move ever that adjusted requests and turned the process upside down as much as this," Fox Sports senior vice president Michael Mulvihill said. "I think the league treated everyone well with Tampa Bay because they knew how great everyone's interest was. It was a significant curveball."
Brady's former team isn't dropping off the radar. New England has five scheduled prime-time appearances (one Thursday and two each on Sundays and Mondays) and has the featured CBS late afternoon spot twice — at Kansas City on Oct. 4 and versus the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 25.
"They are still going to be a big story for us. Plus, I will never sell Bill Belichick short," CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said of the longtime Patriots coach. "They still have a great tradition and legacy."
SoFi Stadium in Ingelwood, California, and Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas each will get its own spotlight during the first two weeks. New venues have traditionally received the Sunday night game in the season's second week, but this is the first time since 2002 that there have been multiple openings.
The Los Angeles Rams' opener against the Dallas Cowboys is the NBC Sunday night game for the opening week, while the Raiders' first game in Vegas will be on Monday night in the second week, against New Orleans. That Sept. 21 game also will mark 50 years since the first Monday night game and will be simulcast on ABC and ESPN.
"We expressed an interest in having either game," ESPN executive vice president of programming Burke Magnus said. "We will likely add a couple more elements because it is a big event, not only historically but with the Raiders moving into their new home."
ESPN's opening week doubleheader for "Monday Night Football" has the Pittsburgh Steelers visiting the New York Giants, marking the fourth time in the past five years an interconference game has kicked off its schedule. The late game has the Denver Broncos hosting the Tennessee Titans.
West Coast lean
Six of the first seven games on "Sunday Night Football" will be from the West Coast, including San Francisco and the Seattle Seahawks getting to host two early games apiece on NBC. Executive producer Fred Gaudelli said this is the first time he can remember having a predominant western slant to the early schedule.
Of those six matchups, only one is a division game: Rams at 49ers on Oct. 18. Seattle hosts New England (Sept. 20) and the Minnesota Vikings (Oct. 11), while the 49ers have an intriguing matchup on Oct. 4 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Gaudelli is also intrigued with having San Francisco's game at Dallas on Dec. 20.
McManus is extremely pleased CBS was able to retain most of the Chiefs' marquee matchups. Besides the Week 4 game against New England, CBS also has the Nov. 29 contest at Tampa Bay and Dec. 20 at New Orleans. The Chiefs will have five games in the late afternoon spot during CBS doubleheaders.
Kansas City, of course, will host the NFL kickoff game on Sept. 10 against the Houston Texans, with that matchup on NBC. The Chiefs' only Monday night appearance will be at Baltimore on Sept. 28.
If the revised golf majors schedule remains, Fox and CBS should be in good shape. Fox has a single-game slot in Week 2, when the U.S. Open is slated to take place, with six of its seven games beginning at 1 p.m. The only outlier is the Washington Redskins visiting the Arizona Cardinals at 4:05, which means viewers in the District of Columbia and Phoenix will likely have to watch the conclusion of the final round of the U.S. Open on FS1.
CBS will have the final round of the Masters on Nov. 15 (Week 10), but its three games will all begin after 4. Last year's final round began early due to the threat of inclement weather and was wrapped up by 3.
Supply and demand
CBS has this season's Super Bowl — incidentally, it's in Tampa Bay — which should give the network an advantage in ad sales. McManus, though, thinks everyone will benefit because of the increasing demand for live programming.
"I think there is going to be a lot of pent-up demand. We have a terrific schedule that is very attractive to advertisers," he said.
Gaudelli said there are a lot of unknown factors with how the rest of the sports calendar will play out due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"Normally we program against the World Series in middle to late October, but we don't know when the baseball playoffs might take place," he noted. "Hopefully things will be in a more familiar state when we get to fall."