As ubiquitous as the NFL is in mass culture — is your beer/deodorant/credit card the official beer/deodorant/credit card of the NFL? — there are a lot of barriers to entry as far as consuming the product exactly the way you want. To catch Thursday Night Football, you have to subscribe to a cable or satellite package that includes the NFL Network. If you’re, say, a transplant living in Chicago, and you’re not jazzed about watching Bears games every week, DirecTV and the $225 Sunday Ticket are all that can save you from an unwelcome Jay Cutler living room intrusion some 16 Sundays a year.
A lot of commercials during NFL games depict fans that have 60-inch TVs, swank houses or apartments, and fabulously genial, buffet-stocked watching parties populated by a diverse group of suspiciously attractive football diehards. I’m sure these sorts of things exist — at Jimmy Kimmel’s house, perhaps — but most people don’t watch the NFL this way. Some of us are broke or can’t get DirecTV and aren’t thrilled about the prospect of schlepping to a bar, because we’re not wholly prepared to take in life’s rich pageant at noon on a Sunday. There has to be a better way, but there really isn’t.
You can bootleg games, which I don’t recommend not because it’s illegal, but because it’s torturous and lo-fi. At least this year, as Kotaku’s Owen Good pointed out a few months ago, there was a viable alternative: You could buy the $100 anniversary edition of Madden 25, which gives you a code for a subscription to Sunday Ticket Max, so you can watch all the games on your computer or mobile device in HD. It’s hard to imagine that’s going to be an option next season, though.
The good news is the NFL is apparently taking steps to broadcast better games to non-DirecTV-having plebes. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the league is planning to cross-flex games next season, which means they’ll have the authority to move more enticing match-ups from the 1 p.m. local time slot into the national one at 4:25 p.m., across networks if they need to. The goal of this is to get as many games between competitive teams into as many homes as possible. For example, if Saints-Panthers is on at 1 p.m. on Fox, the league could swap that game into the 4:25 p.m. slot on CBS if they were inclined to do so.
Schefter’s report is scant on details because discussions about this are still fluid. One hopes that Roger Goodell and company are also mulling over whether or not flex scheduling should begin sooner than Week 11. The NFL doesn’t get much credit for being progressive — and they shouldn’t — but they’re the first major sports league to acknowledge that schedule-setters aren’t prescient and put in place a counter-measure that allows the league to tweak the broadcast schedule in order to give national audiences more attractive games.
But there’s no practical reason why the league couldn’t shift certain games into the 4:25 p.m. or Sunday Night Football slots in Week 8 or, hell, Week 3 if they really wanted to. What the NFL is implicitly arguing, with this idea of cross-flexing, is that the late and primetime games on Sunday should be a showcase between two intriguing football teams. If you follow this logic to a reasonable conclusion, there’s no reason we should have to endure, as we did a few weeks ago, the Packers predictably dominating the Vikings.
The NFL set a viewer-friendly (and not incidentally lucrative) precedent when they introduced flex scheduling in 2006 and seem willing to further implement the idea that the best games deserve the best time slots. While they’re rethinking the way flexing can work, they might as well render every Sunday slate of games changeable. We plebeians would appreciate it.