March Madness “Single Most Important Sports Deal” in CBS History

March Madness

CBS Sports has held the broadcast rights to the NCAA tournament since 1982. Neal Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports (currently the head of the consultancy Pilson Communications), negotiated the deal and called the network’s decision to take the risk and spend nearly $50 million on a collegiate basketball tournament – at a time when the NIT still maintained some prestige – “the single most important sports deal” made in the company’s history (except for possibly the decision to get back into the NFL in ’98). It’s hard to argue against the point. The tournament enables the network to dominate 3 weeks every winter (in aggregate, the 67 games draw more viewers than the Super Bowl) and CBS has finished as the “most watched network” 15 of the last 16 years.

Howie Long-Short: The value of the March Madness television package has grown exponentially since CBS first landed the broadcast rights to college basketball’s post-season tournament in 1981 for $48 million (for 3 years). Since 1986, the cost of carrying the NCAA tournament has risen 4,535% – which explains why the company eventually sought out a partner capable of picking up half the tab. In 2011, CBS and Turner Broadcasting agreed to a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with the NCAA that gives them the exclusive rights (includes streaming) to the tournament through April ’24. That deal has since been extended through 2032 for an additional $1.1 billion/year.

While March Madness is the “most profitable” post-season entity (it does not generate more revenue than the NFL post-season), one should not be evaluating billion dollar TV rights deals based on the profit and losses of a single event. CBS’ deal with the NCAA needs to be looked at in its totality. The network’s regular season package is more valuable to advertisers because they own the rights to the tournament and the prestige the network gains from its association with college basketball makes the remainder of their programming more appealing to potential sponsors. Remember, CBS bought back into the NFL in ’98 because it cost them more to pass on carrying games (in the loss of sponsors) than the $2 billion they paid to re-acquire the rights.

Television viewership is declining, but advertising revenues for the annual basketball tournament continue to rise (+3-5% YoY since ’14). Kantar media reported March Madness ad revenues climbed from $1.285 billion in ’17 to $1.32 billion in 2018 and TV News Check stated the networks were able to command a 5-6% increase on ad inventory rates this year (spots are 95% sold). The NCAA tournament remains a hot property for advertisers – even with fewer people watching and rising CPMs – because of its ability to capture an engaged, attractive demo (see: young, college educated, spending power) en mass.

Fan Marino: Bracket pools have transfixed how sports fans watch and engage with March Madness. While it’s been said that the first bracket pool was held in ’77 (on Staten Island), when CBS first acquired the rights to annual tournament a few years later, “bracketology” had yet to make its way into the public lexicon; in fact, CBS held the first televised selection show in 1982. It wasn’t until the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 – thus increasing the possibility of upsets – that fan interest in the tournament truly exploded. By the early 1990s – coinciding with the rise of ESPN – filling out a bracket became commonplace. This year more than 40 million people will fill out 119 million+ brackets.

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BSE CEO Brett Yormark on the Return of Big-Time Boxing to Brooklyn


On Saturday night, WBC Champion Deontay Wilder (39-0, knocked out every fighter he’s faced) will defend his title against Luis “King Kong” Ortiz (28-0, 24 knockouts), headlining a night of fights at Barclays Center (and on Showtime, CBS). Brett Yormark, the CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, is the man responsible for bringing big-time boxing back to Brooklyn. JWS caught up with Brett at the Wilder/Ortiz press conference on Thursday afternoon and asked him about the return of big-time boxing to Brooklyn, the value the Brooklyn Boxing franchise brings to Barclays Center and if we can expect Brooklyn to land the Wilder/Joshua fight (should he defend his title).

JWS: Brooklyn has a storied boxing history that dates to the late 19th century; but, before Brooklyn Boxing’s arrival on the scene, it had been 80+ years since the borough held a title fight. What was the motivating factor to bring boxing back to Brooklyn and to Barclays Center?

Brett: When I took this job, I spent some time to truly understand and identify the D.N.A. of the borough from a sports & entertainment perspective, where some of the history was. I read about the Tyson’s and the Riddick Bowe’s. I visited Gleason’s gym and realized this could be a differentiator for us.

JWS: You talk about being in the big event business, but early on there was some criticism that Brooklyn Boxing fights were “mismatched”. That’s no longer the case with the biggest heavyweight fight in 15 years, at Barclays Center this weekend. Has there been a change in strategy in terms of the fights you look to book or was the early competition simply a product of being new to the business (i.e. taking the fights you could land)?  

Brett: Early on, we looked at volume as opposed to keeping it real premium. About a year and a half into it, we decided that rather doing X amount of shows, let’s concentrate on doing 6-8 of the biggest and best shows possible each year. Those are the shows that the people want to see and that matter the most; and we’ve seen attendance rise to an all-time high as a result.

JWS: Barclays Center is among the 3rd highest grossing arena in the U.S. ($83.7 million). How big of an impact does Brooklyn Boxing have on the bottom line?

Brett: The boxing business is a nice revenue stream for us but you can’t compare it to our anchor tenants like the Nets or Islanders, or some of the more mature businesses that we have. What boxing delivers though, that some of the others don’t, is the glamorization of the borough and our building. People are recognizing Barclays Center as a major sports and entertainment venue and that creates a lot of value for us. So, it’s not so much about the immediate economics; it’s what boxing can do as an over-arching platform for the building.

Howie Long-Short: BSE oversees programming, marketing, sales, and operations for Barclays Center; NYCB LIVE’s Nassau Coliseum; LIU Brooklyn Paramount Theatre; and Webster Hall. BSE also manages and controls the Brooklyn Nets and its NBA G League team, the Long Island Nets, as well as the business operations of the NHL’s New York Islanders. The privately-held company is owned by Mikhail Prokhorov.

Fan Marino: Should Wilder defend his title on Saturday night, it will set-up a potential showdown with IBF, WBA and IBO championship title holder Anthony Joshua. I asked Brett, should that occur, can we expect Barclays Center to host what would be among the most anticipated Heavyweight Title fights of the last 40 years?

Brett: From a business perspective and a fan point of view, everyone is looking forward to that fight. I can’t sit here today and tell you we’re going to get it, but I will tell you that we’re in the big event business. I’ve made it crystal clear that if there is a Wilder/Joshua fight, which at some point in time there has to be, we’ll be in the mix and I’ll be very aggressive in going after it.

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Roy Jones Jr. on Lessons Learned from a Failed Venture and Wilder vs. Ortiz


Roy Jones Jr. is among the best pound-for-pound fighters of all-time, having won a Silver medal at the ’88 Olympics before becoming a 6-time World Champion. He’s currently involved in a handful of ventures including a music business (just released Body Head Bangerz Vol. 2, SM Bullett is also signed to his label), a boxing training school (RJJ Fight Academy), a promotion company (Roy Jones Jr. Boxing Promotions) and he has a career as a color commentator (HBO, TWX). JWS got a chance to talk with Captain Hook about his recent retirement, lessons learned from a failed venture and his thoughts on the Wilder/Ortiz bout Saturday night.

JWS: You just fought on February 8th, winning a unanimous 10-round decision and have won your last 4 fights. If you’re still the better fighter each time you get in the ring, why are you retiring?  

Roy: Just because the risk outweighs the reward now. It’s not enough money to risk going out there at 49 years old; you’re not as fast as you used to be, strong as you used to be. These guys aren’t coming out to let you win, they’re coming out to beat you. These guys look at it like “hey that’s Roy Jones, I don’t care what age he is, I’m trying to beat him.” 

JWS: Now that you’re retired, you’re committed to training (out of his gym in Pensacola, Florida) and promoting fighters; but, this isn’t your first foray into the promotion business and you weren’t particularly successful the first time around. Why is it going to be different this time?

Roy: When we tried the promotion company, we didn’t go out and get the up and coming guys that were marketable. We were getting pretty good fighters, but they were not marketable fighters. I was busy with my own career. I didn’t have the time to hand pick fighters. Now that I have the time, I can find guys with the potential to go on to something bigger. I was letting other people do it (select the promotion’s fighters) and other people don’t know it (have an eye for talent) like I know it (have an eye for talent). You can’t depend on other people to do the job, when you know you’re the man for the job.  

JWS: The fight is on Showtime, so you won’t be calling it; but, can I get a prediction?

Roy: It’s going to be a good fight. I think Ortiz is a very good opponent for Wilder. If Wilder can hit him early, I think Wilder can knock him out; but, if he doesn’t, it could be really rough for Wilder because Ortiz has a lot of experience. I think Wilder gets him early.

Howie Long-Short: Roy Jones Jr. doesn’t need to be fighting at 49 years old, he’s doing so because he “can, at an elite level”. Jones had a particularly lucrative boxing career. It’s been estimated that his net worth is upwards of $45 million. If that’s the case, the only boxers worth more are Ali ($50 million), Vitali Klitschko ($65 million), Pacquiao ($100 million), Leonard ($120 million), Lewis ($130 million), De La Hoya ($200 million), Foreman ($250 million) and Mayweather Jr. ($400 million).

Fan Marino: We saw Connor McGregor get into a boxing ring with Floyd Mayweather and hold his own. I asked Roy, generally speaking, is it a bad idea for an MMA fighter to consent to a boxing match with a professional boxer?

Roy: It’s not a bad idea for an MMA fighter to get into a boxing right. Some MMA fighters get good at boxing and they are probably capable of beating a few boxers. A lot of those guys boxed before they got into MMA. It would be stupid for a boxer to go over, as you saw with James Toney, and try to do MMA; unless he knew judo or was a wrestler before he started boxing.

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High Schools Sports – The Next Frontier


While JohnWallStreet typically focuses on publicly traded companies, several noteworthy transactions (P.E. investments and strategic partnerships) within the high school sports space were recently announced. Below is a summary of each transaction:

Keemotion has partnered with Monumental Sports Network (MSN), the first direct to fan regional sports platform, to produce and livestream youth and high school hockey games played at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Keemotion’s cloud-based technology and proprietary motion detecting camera system drastically reduces the production work required to broadcast a high-quality live stream. The automated video production technology also offers coaches, teams and leagues with real-time analytic capabilities. Monumental plans on extending the partnership to youth basketball, as well.

Overtime, a company that dubs itself “a sports network for the next generation of fans”, has raised a $9.5 million Series A round; led by Andreessen Horowitz (Kevin Durant’s Durant Co. also participated in the round). The company, which produces short-form video content (highlights and behind-the-scenes coverage focused on high school star athletes), designed for Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube; has received nearly 1 billion views to date. SportsNet New York and NBC Sports Philadelphia have both signed content sharing partnerships with the digital media startup.

SIDEARM Sports, a software and technology provider that powers the websites, live stats and video streaming for athletic programs across the country has announced a partnership with CBS Interactive Advanced Media (CBS). Together, the two companies will livestream 14,000 sporting events and manage 1,100 high school and collegiate athletic websites (that will stream games). Shared clients (include 85% of P5 schools) will have access to SIDEARM’s content management & delivery systems, mobile platform and creative design solutions; as well as CBS’ video streaming and distribution technology.

Howie Long-Short: Keemotion has raised $5.5 million to date, including a $3.6 million Series A round that counts David Stern, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and the New Jersey Devils as investors.

Overtime’s $9.5 million Series A round brings the total amount it has raised to $12 million; they previously closed on a $2.5 million seed round in February 2017. David Stern was among the 9 investors who participated in that round.

SIDEARM Sports was acquired by Learfield Sports back in 2014. In 2016, Learfield Sports (which represented 123 collegiate programs at the time) was acquired by Atairos Management for an estimated $1.2 billion.

Fan Marino: Kevin Durant has been investing in technology companies since 2015, when he participated in Postmates $80 million Series D round. The Warriors star has since invested in Acorns, Zenreach, Rubrik, Mirror Emoji Keyboard, Mars Reel, and Skydio. It’s interesting to note that as KD has gotten more experience investing, he’s participating in earlier rounds. His first couple of investments were in Series C and D rounds. His most recent investments have been in Series A, B or Seed rounds.

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SMI Reports NFL Regular Season In-Game Ad Revenue Declines for 1st Time Since 2014

NFL 200x200

For the first time since the Standard Media Index (SMI) began tracking in-game NFL advertising revenue, the total dollars declined YOY (-1.2% to $2.42 billion). While the cost of spots rose 1.2% to $505,000, as the demand remains high (particularly in the upfront marketplace); the marginal per spot increase was more than off-set by a rise in “make-goods” as viewership declined 9.7%. The data includes all ads shown on ESPN, CBS, NBC & FOX NFL broadcasts between September 7th and December 31st (the NFL’s 2017 regular season).

Howie Long-Short: The reduced spend by automotive (-5.4% YOY) & consumer electronics companies (-3%) had the greatest impact on the total revenue generated, as those two categories represent the NFL’s biggest spenders. Several categories that generate a smaller percentage of the league’s advertising revenue increased their ’17 spend, including; insurance (+30%), alcoholic beverages (+16%) and fast-food restaurants. For reference purposes, total NFL in-game ad revenue was up 9.6% (to $2.38 billion) in ’15 and 3% ($2.45 billion) in ’16.

Fan Marino: Despite the declining viewership, the NFL remains TV’s biggest draw; 37 of the Top 50 most watched broadcasts of 2017 were NFL games, up from 28 in 2016 (Olympic year) and matching the league’s total from 2015. 9 of the Top 12 were NFL games and Super Bowl LI was the most watched program. 11 other playoff games made the list, as did 6 Sunday Night Football games, the season opener on NBC and 18 CBS and Fox Sunday afternoon windows.

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Interest Lacking in TNF Package, Fox Submits Highest Bid

NBC Thursday Night Football
NBC THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL — Pictured: “NBC Thursday Night Football” Logo — (Photo by: NBC Sports)

Just three linear television networks submitted bids for the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package; Fox (submitted the highest bid), CBS & NBC. Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA) reportedly bid more than the combined $450 million that CBS & NBC (CMCSA) paid in 2017. Both companies have acknowledged that they lost money on the package last season (advertiser interest declined) and stated they would be submitting lower bids for rights to the games in 2018. ABC/ESPN did not submit a bid, as the company did not think it could turn a profit at the going rate; nor did Turner, as it did not believe the league would sell the rights to a cable network (TWX is also tied up in a potential merger with T). TNF ratings on CBS and NBC are down 20% since 2015.

Howie Long-Short: When FOXA decided to sell $52.4 billion worth of assets (TV, film & RSNs) to DIS, the company restructured focusing on news coverage & live sports; so, adding TNF rights aligns with the new strategy, even if the games don’t immediately turn a profit. It’s reasonable to ask why Fox would outbid its competitors for a property that loses money. Simply put, they hope TNF can boost ratings on shoulder programming and want the opportunity to promote the network’s other shows. TNF remains a Top 5 primetime program. While it is the least valuable NFL package, it still maintains tremendous value relative to other television programming.

Fan Marino: NBC has the rights to the 2018 Super Bowl. Al Michaels (PBP), Cris Collinsworth (color) and Michelle Tafoya (sideline) will call the game. It will be the 10th time Michaels has called the Super Bowl. One individual that will be noticeably absent from the NBC broadcast is Bob Costas (who stated last February that he expected to call the game). Perhaps, in hindsight, it wasn’t the best idea to predict the demise of the country’s most popular sport.

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Study Finds Super Bowl Ads Worth the Spend


30-second advertising spots during the February 4th Super Bowl are selling for more than $5 million (40% of U.S. TV households will be watching), but a collaborative study between Stanford University and Humboldt University (Germany) found that Super Bowl advertisers continue to see meaningful post-game sales during other major sporting events (i.e. March Madness, World Series), within the same calendar year, indicating the spend is worth it. Those that built a social media presence or digital campaign to follow their Super Bowl ad, were successful in keeping their product(s) on the consumer’s mind through baseball season. Companies that were the sole advertiser within a specific product category received the greatest long-term value (see: BUD, PEP). Long-term advertisers received a boost in sales during Super Bowl week, despite the product being purchased before the event (i.e. the ad has yet to run).

Howie Long-Short: Just 10 Super Bowl ad spots remain, so the study is unlikely to impact ad sales (and NBC’s bottom line) for this year’s game. If there are going to be immediate beneficiaries, it’s going to be CBS (rights to ’19 SB) and FOXA (rights to ’20 SB); the rights holders of the next 2 Super Bowls. NBC Universal (CMCSA) said it expects to generate $500 million in Super Bowl ad revenue, a figure in line with the total generated for the last 2 years. Advertisers aren’t worried about the NFL’s declining attendance, that trend hasn’t translated to the Super Bowl; last year’s game drew 111.3 million viewers, the 5th most watched TV event of all-time.

Fan Marino: Mean Joe Greene and Joe Namath participated in iconic Super Bowl commercials, but a lesser known collegiate All-American starred in one of my all-time favorites; Terry Tate as “Office Linebacker”, installing workplace discipline in a 2003 Reebok spot. At 6’5, 300 pounds, with 4.3 40 (yard dash) speed and collegiate All-American (Morgan State) game tape, Lester Speight (his real name) should have been an NFL star; position changes and injuries derailed his promising career. He never played in a professional football game.

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NFL Remains TV’s Biggest Draw, Khalifa Draws Huge Audience for G-League Game

AdAge published their Top 50 most watched broadcasts of 2017 and despite a 9% YOY NFL ratings decline, 37 were NFL games; up from 28 in 2016 (Olympic year) and matching the league’s total from 2015. 9 of the Top 12 were NFL games and Super Bowl LI was the most watched program. 11 other playoff games made the list, as did 6 Sunday Night Football games, the season opener on NBC and 18 CBS and Fox Sunday afternoon windows. The highest rated non-NFL sporting event was Game 7 of the World Series (#13, 28.2 million); Game 5 of the NBA finals was the NBA’s highest rated game (#23, 24.5 million).

Howie Long-Short: On a network basis, Fox (FOXA) had the most sporting events in the Top 50 with 15; including the Super Bowl, 4 NFC playoff games and 2 World Series games. CBS and NBC (CMCSA) each had 13. ABC (DIS), which does not have regular season rights to the NFL, had just 5 of the Top 50 broadcasts. NFL ratings are down, but ad sale revenue is up 2%, makegoods are down and the average cost per spot is up 1% from the 2016 season.

Fan Marino: Former adult film star (and social media influencer) Mia Khalifa is building a name for herself within the sports world; co-hosting a show on Complex News’ YouTube channel with Gilbert Arenas and starting a Twitch channel to play NBA2K and NHL ‘17. Now she’s using the platform to call G-League games (watch her co-stream Grand Rapids vs. Fort Wayne, here). With 10 minutes to go in the 1st quarter of last night’s game, more than 3 million people had visited her Twitch page. It’s obviously not an apple to apples comparison, but just one NBA game this season had 3 million viewers (GSW vs. OKC on November 22nd). I may not ready to give up Mike Breen, Marv Albert and Ian Eagle for Khalifa; but it appears there is an audience who is and prefers a co-hosted stream to the traditional broadcast.


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Amazon Takes on The Sports World; 25 Companies That Will Be Affected

Amazon has been credited with killing everything from book stores to electronics retailers since its 1994 launch. Now, with a market cap +/- $570 billion and $16 billion in annual operating cash flow, the company is taking aim at the sports world. In our final newsletter of 2017, we look at 4 of AMZN’s recent initiatives and the 25 companies most likely to be affected in 2018.

Amazon Expands Brand Registry Program, Now Includes Nike

In June, Nike (NKE) agreed to join Amazon’s brand registry program; seeking to curb counterfeiting and non-licensed selling within the e-commerce marketplace. The partnership also supports the athletic apparel and sneaker brand’s initiative to boost revenue through a shift to digital and DTC sales, relying less on struggling retailers. Competitors Adidas (ADDYY) and Under Armour (UAA) already have direct-sales deals in place with AMZN.

Names to Watch: FINL, DKS, FL, HIBB, BGFV; LON: SPD, LON: JD

Howie Long-Short: Athletic apparel and sneaker retailers count on NKE (70% of FL business comes from NKE); but NKE launched its “Consumer Direct Offense” strategy in fiscal Q1 ’18, increasing e-commerce business 19% YOY. Mediocre retailers beware, the company is maintaining just a few dozen wholesale relationships as it looks to increase its e-commerce business (from 15% of revenue to 30% over the next 5 years).

Amazon Entering Private-Label Sportswear Business

In October, Amazon (AMZN) announced it was entering the private-label sportswear business and working with the same Taiwanese suppliers, Makalot Industrial Co. (TPE: 1477) and Eclat Textile Co. (TPE: 1476), that some of the world’s biggest athletic brands use. Elcat’s involvement is particularly noteworthy as the company manufactures high-performance sportswear for Nike (NKE), Lululemon Athletica (LULU) and Under Armour (UAA).

Names to Watch: NKE, UAA, ADDYY, LULU; TPE: 1476, TPE: 1477

Howie Long-ShortAMZN wants to be in the private-label clothing business because it pushes retailers to sell inventory on the e-commerce site. Should a retailer choose not to, AMZN will simply produce the item themselves and compete directly against the brand.

The Pursuit of Exclusive Broadcast Rights

In September, the company hired Brian Potter to lead its sports video business. In November, Jim DeLorenzo, head of sports, Amazon Video, said the company was pleased with viewership numbers, engagement and the reliability/quality of the cloud-based streaming service during its season long experiment streaming Thursday Night Football (10 games, $50 million); though it is too early to say if the company will pursue future exclusive sports broadcasting rights. The company has since done deals that will deliver Prime subscribers 37 ATP tour events (previously owned by SKYAY), the AVP Beach Volleyball tour each of the next 3 summers and docu-series on Michigan Football.


Howie Long-Short: NFL Senior VP, Digital Media, Vishal Shah recently said “we continue to think some of the best days are ahead [for traditional TV partners] despite some shifts in the media landscape.” That doesn’t sound like linear television will be excluded in the next round of negotiations, but the NFL is encouraging interested media companies to bid on both television and streaming rights for the leagues TNF package; leaving the door ajar for the tech giants to receive exclusivity for the first time.

Twitch: The Future of Game Broadcasts?

Twitch, the live-streaming platform most often associated with video games, has agreed to stream up to 6 live G-League (Gatorade sponsored NBA minor league) games. Broadcasts will include interactive overlays (viewers can click a team name/logo for player, team, game and season stats), a loyalty program to reward viewer engagement during broadcasts (i.e. custom emotes for group chat) and the ability for users to provide their own live commentary (over the game feed) via the Twitch co-streaming feature.


Fan Marino: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has gone on record stating he’d like to see changes in the way sports broadcasts are presented; pointing out the lack of live stats and chatter surrounding the broadcast, that gamers have become accustomed to. I’m not ready to give up Mike Breen, Marv Albert and Ian Eagle for Towelliee; but it’s worth watching to see if anyone else is.

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NFL Sends Out RFP for Thursday Night Football, Open to Altering Package

The NFL is soliciting bids for its Thursday Night Football broadcast package, encouraging interested media companies to bid on both television and streaming rights. The RFP indicates the league is open to altering the package, with the number and dates of games (like TNF on Christmas Day) up for negotiation. Bids are due in early January. The league-owned NFL Network will continue to carry at least 7 games, per existing linear television affiliate agreements.

Howie Long-Short: Richard Sherman wrote a column on the Player’s Tribune entitled “Why I Hate Thursday Night Football”, citing injury, safety and quality of play concerns. Sherman isn’t the only player to feel that way (see: RoethlisbergerBrees), so why does the league insist on playing the games? The NFL made $500 million from its ’17 Thursday Night Football broadcast package; CBS and NBC (CMCSA) paid $450 million (each got 5 games) for television rights and Amazon (AMZN) paid $50 million to stream games 10 games. Oh, and people are still tuning in; the lowest rated TNF game drew 10.6 million viewers (3.3x the amount of the highest rated NBA game this season).

Fan Marino: Here’s a solution. CFB held its conference championship games on the weekend of December 2nd. Play Saturday triple headers (1p, 4p, 8p EST) the last 4 weeks of the season (no NCAA games) and add one on Christmas (in ’18 Christmas falls on Tuesday, so teams playing would get a bye the week prior). There’s no reason to concede that day to the NBA. That leaves 3 games; add 2nd MNF games (7p and 10p EST) to the last 3 weeks of September (there is already one in Week 1).

NFL RFP Suggests League Is Open To Changing “TNF” Package

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