Oversaturation is not a new term to either football or broadcasters. From almost the moment the game first appeared on the screen some critics have said there is too much football on television. The volume of those warnings has increased in the past few years, even though sponsors continue to up their purchases of high-priced football programing. This season there will be more than 1,000 hours of football telecasts, at a cost to broadcasters of more than $80 million for the rights fees alone. Numbers like these have brought some surprising new worriers to the fore, among them National Football League Broadcasting Coordinator Bob Cochran. "I am more concerned about too much football on television this year than I've ever been before," he says.
If football has overexposed itself the warning signs may be clear long before Super Bowl IX rolls around next January. (One of the best things that could happen to TV pro football would be if that game resulted in some interesting numbers, such as a final score of XXVIII-XXVII.) It seems hardly a day ago the viewer, feeling like an overused blocking dummy, turned off the final All-Bowl contest of last season. And now he faces a far sterner viewing test. To cite one example from the gridiron telethon, 19 games, pro and college, will be beamed from Nov. 23 through Dec. 2.
"This year certain cities will have five games on five different days of the week for a large part of the fall," points out Chet Simmons, NBC-TV's vice-president of Sports Operations. "On Sundays the NFL is available on NBC and CBS; on Mondays ABC has the prime time NFL game; on Wednesdays some cities have a WFL game involving a local team; on Thursdays the national WFL game is on; and on Saturdays the college games are on ABC."
That's not all. There will be more college doubleheaders (four) than ever before, as well as 15 from the pros. One-hour replays of Notre Dame games will again be a weekly feature in more than 100 markets and five live Grambling College games will be aired in cities with large black populations, such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C. and New York. When highlight shows and pre-and post-game programs are added, some locales will be blitzed with 30 hours a week of football.
Is this too much? Since 1970 NFL ratings for both NBC and CBS have been slipping, although not drastically. NBC dropped 3% from 1972 to 1973 and CBS fell 4%. NCAA college football lost 9% of its audience over the same period. However, not all indicators are negative. Ratings for Monday Night Football on ABC climbed 4% in the program's third year to an average of more than 14 million homes each week, making it the network's biggest moneymaker. A one-minute commercial on that game costs $100,000.
ABC is football's biggest spender, putting up $30 million for telecasting rights compared to CBS' $23 million and NBC's $21 million. This season ABC already has plugged a college game into its Monday night schedule—Notre Dame-Georgia Tech last week—and it will probably air at least one bowl game on a Monday night. ABC also will broadcast an extra pro game this year as a result of its new $11.5 million contract with the NFL. The added starter will be between Dallas and Oakland on Saturday, Dec. 14. The network will face its toughest challenge on Jan. 20 when it will attempt to lure fans into watching the Pro Bowl, that outdated, semi-All Star game which has phony rules and fewer top players each year. ABC kicked in $1.5 million for the half-contest, and it will be interesting to see what pressure the network can exert on the league to make the game a valid form of entertainment once more.
Last season's controversial anti-blackout rule again will be responsible for putting more pro games on TV. Because of legislation requiring the televising of home games if the stadium is sold out 72 hours before kickoff, 114 games were shown locally around the country in 1973, compared to only one (the Super Bowl) the season before. As this season begins, a third of the NFL clubs have sold out their home schedules. In the 17 other cities, fans will have to play it a game—or, more precisely, a Thursday—at a time to find if they will see the home team on television. They are Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New England, New Orleans, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, St. Louis and New York, for Giants' games only.
The most notable change in coverage this year will probably be at CBS where—thank goodness—the viewer is going to see very little of those mindless bands wandering around at halftime tootling Age of Aquarius. Following the lead of ABC's Monday night production which reruns important plays from the previous day's games at halftime, CBS will show taped highlights of contests still in progress. Jack Whitaker will handle that aspect of the telecast from a studio in New York.
On Monday nights, ABC has added two cameras—plus former Kansas City Chief Fred Williamson as a replacement for Don Meredith. Early reviews of Williamson's work—to give him the best of if—have been mixed. Which is also the best word to describe the emotions of TV experts in and out of football when they consider the sport's first 1,000-hour season.
NFL'S BOB COCHRAN WORRIES ABOUT OVERSATURATION