In its way, the NFL pioneered sports broadcasting. It wasn’t the first professional sport league in the US to take advantage of the tube—Major League Baseball beat it to both network and cable television—but it always maximized the medium better than any of its competitors. From its first league-wide network contracts in the 1960s to its expansion to satellite TV in the 1990s, pro football has secured its foothold in America’s living rooms so thoroughly that it’s now the primary way fans connect with the game.
Now the NFL wants to conquer the screens that dominate 21st-century culture: computers, tablets, and mobile phones. After years of fumbling its digital presentation, the league is finally embracing live streaming as part of a “tri-cast” distribution model of broadcast, cable, and internet, the last through a partnership with Twitter.
Thanks to these developments, there are now more ways than ever to get your gridiron on when the season gets underway on Thursday, September 8, with a Super Bowl rematch between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers. Here’s our guide to all your options.
Over the air
Unlike the NBA, NHL, or MLB, the NFL plays a simple 16-game schedule with each team playing one game a week. That lends itself to fairly predictable TV programming. The league splits the Sunday afternoon telecasts by conference: AFC games air on CBS at 1 p.m. and 4:05 or 4:25 p.m. ET, and Fox runs the NFC games at 1 p.m. and 4:05 p.m. NBC retains the popular Sunday Night Football broadcast, which kicks off at 8:30 p.m. ET.
This year, 10 of 18 Thursday Night Football broadcasts will be split between CBS and NBC, with each network airing five games. CBS gets the first half of the season, with NBC taking over on November 17. All 10 games will be simulcast on the cable-only NFL Network, and the league’s flagship channel retains sole ownership of the remaining eight games.
If this abundance of TV offerings has your head swimming like you just took a bone-crushing hit from Kam Chancellor, check out 506Sports.com or Sports Media Watch. Each site lists which game is on what channel for each week of the season. Bookmark them for easy access.
Bye bye blackouts
For the second consecutive year, the league has voted to lift its longstanding—and controversial—blackout policy. Since 1973, pro football’s broadcast rules maintained that a home game couldn’t be televised in the team’s local market if it wasn’t sold out 72 hours prior to kickoff. The blackout policy was the strictest of the four major North American sports and the bane of every fan and team owner (Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross famously bought up unsold tickets for years to circumvent TV blackouts).
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