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NFL’s ratings bonanza set to begin

The return of regular season NFL football means good things for many people, among them bettors, diehard fans, fantasy football players and, especially, TV programmers.

It might be weeks until network series like “This is Us,” “9-1-1” or “Modern Family” return, but the fall TV season officially starts with the NFL.

In terms of ratings and viewership, more people watch NFL games than news, reality shows or scripted programming. While coaches and fans care about on-field results to varying degrees, league and TV executives care about games fitting games into TV windows and attracting as many viewers as possible.

People watch, too. In 2018, 64 of TV’s 100 most-viewed programs were produced by the NFL.

Of course, the Steelers and Patriots cap the first Sunday of the regular season on Sunday Night Football tonight. For many in our region, it’s an exciting game worth watching.

For others (probably anyone associated with the local NBC affiliate) it’s a return to dominance and normalcy because SNF typically ranks as one of TV’s most-watched programs each week.

During the preseason, a Steelers-Titans game on NBC attracted 6.2 million viewers, making it the most watched preseason game. In fairness, the rating for the game, and five others in the preseason top 10,was down a bit to comparable games last season.

Still, as audiences fracture because they have more choices in the form of streaming services or recorded options, live sports like the NFL remain the most popular programming available.

So, welcome back, NFL — even Al Michaels and his offhand, wink-wink acknowledgement of betting lines on SNF.

Best bets

Perhaps the silliest things about NFL broadcasts could be the general consensus among broadcast partners to not acknowledge betting lines or gambling during games.

The recent tradition of late-game mentions by Michaels and some others that a late-game score might impact a portion of viewers has been unnecessary, just him snubbing his nose at the rule to not mention betting lines.

Bettors certainly know the math and do not need reminded.

However, with the legalization of betting in more places, including Pennsylvania, since last NFL season, at least acknowledging the obvious seems OK.

Broadcasts do not need to be full-fledged, bet-on-demand updates, but avoiding the topic does not serve fans and viewers.

It seems like there could be a more artful, honest way to address the topic. It’s a shame supposedly smart folks with the NFL’s broadcast partners have not found a solution.

Regarding replay

Let’s get this out of the way before the NFL season begins: TV rules analysts are a waste of money and time during games.

Maybe there’s value during weekly pregame, halftime or studio segments, but things would be so much easier if everyone cooperated, took a transparent approach and heard directly from game and league officials making replay decisions.

That has to be better than having analysts make interpretations about what’s happening.

The analysts just add a layer of confusion, and they often seem to be guessing.

For all the money networks pay to broadcast games, they should get better access to the replay review process to inform fans. It would make the broadcasts stronger TV shows overall.

Regarding Romo

Tony Romo of CBS Sports, the darling among NFL game analysts, has not participated in contract talks with the network, despite reports that he wants a big raise.

CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus told the New York Daily News he was confident the former Cowboys QB who has gained abundant attention for being able to correctly predict play calls would be re-signed.

Romo’s current contract reportedly pays about $3 million per year, with him seeking more than the John Madden record of $8 million per year to remain with Jim Nantz on the network’s top team.

It’s interesting information, and there’s almost no doubt a deal will get done. Still, like Madden, it’s hard for me to believe an analyst drives viewers to a game. Good games attract big audiences almost no matter who’s working in the broadcast booth.

So, not surprisingly, at some point, the salaries for those involved become more a matter of ego and reputation than actual return on investment.

Tuner tidbits

n The Undefeated.com, ESPN’s content initiative exploring the intersections of sports, race and culture, will present “Year of the Black Quarterback,” a season-long series that examines African-Americans playing one of the most important positions in sports. The series explores the emergence of black quarterbacks in the NFL, their growing prominence and the present and future impact on the league. The first installment – Welcome to the Year of the Black Quarterback – debuted last week, and the series will conclude the week of Super Bowl LIV.

Sampsell comments on the broadcast media for the Mirror. He can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.

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