The anticipated matchup between the Patriots and Broncos — a surefire ratings monster because of quarterbacks Tom Brady and cultural phenomenon Tim Tebow — won’t be played until Dec. 18.
But it can already be chalked up as a win in one regard.
CBS, which spent yesterday battling NBC’s intention of “flexing” the game into its “Sunday Night Football” window, will retain the compelling matchup. It will air at 4:15 p.m. locally on Ch. 4.
Sources at NBC Sports have not yet responded to requests for comment. Communications director Adam Freifeld said via e-mail that the network would “defer to the league for comment.”
Frustration on the network’s part would be understandable. 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.
(Fox pays $712.5 million for the same number NFC games, while ESPN pays $1.1 billion for 18 Monday night games.)
Perhaps the major benefits for NBC is its contractual right with the NFL to “flex” games in Weeks 10-15 and 17 from other networks to their Sunday night package, ensure it has appealing prime-time matchups.
Instead, the network will feature the regularly-scheduled game between the 9-3 Ravens and 5-7 Chargers rather than Tebow vs. Brady.
CBS did have a reasonable case to keep the game, and not just because it owns AFC rights. The network was flexed out of a chance to get its piece the Tebowmania ratings pie when the Broncos-Vikings game was flexed to Fox in a flurry of moves that began with NBC replacing the Patriots-Colts game with Saints-Lions. And this week’s Broncos game, against the Bears, is also on Fox.
But it is curious that the network’s decision weeks ago to protect the Eagles-Jets game on Dec. 18 was not held against it in the end. CBS and Fox can protect one game per week from being flexed, but they are required to notify the NFL of their selections before the flexing period begins in Week 10. (Clarification: This season, the league required the networks to determine its protected games by Week 5. Explains a little better why CBS didn’t go Broncos-Patriots in the first place. It didn’t see Tebowmania coming, either.)
Decisions on flex games are typically made on the Monday 13 days before the scheduled game, with an official deadline of midnight Tuesday (or 12 days before).
But because both networks adamantly coveted the Broncos-Patriots game — and because both had a legitimate case that it deserved to air it — the NFL made the unprecedented decision of waiting until 11 days before the game to make a formal decision. The news came at approximately 2 p.m. this afternoon.
The decision benefits the Patriots to some degree since a 4:15 p.m. start (2:15 in Denver) allows them to depart at a more reasonable hour after the game than an 8:20 p.m. game would. With a short week — the Patriots host the Dolphins on Dec. 24, a Saturday — the less daunting travel schedule mattered.
One other significant angle here: Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who was in New York yesterday for the league’s committee meetings, is the chairman of the broadcast committee.
While The Kraft Group, of which he is the founder, chairman, and CEO, has a business partnership with CBS — there is a CBS Scene restaurant at Patriots Place — a team source said he was sympathetic to both CBS and NBC’s perspective.
The Denver Post reported yesterday that he was making the case for the game on CBS’s behalf. While his precise role in the final decision is uncertain, it’s doubtful that the game would remain on CBS without his blessing.
The Globe has requested comment from Kraft on the matter, so we’ll have further updates here and on Extra Points should he be made available.