The Detroit Lions are the only team without a primetime game this season, but Michael North, the NFL’s vice president of broadcast planning and scheduling, insists the team isn’t an unattractive option for one of those featured slots.
“Unattractive is not the right word,” North said during a conference call with media on Friday. “We certainly looked at schedules as we searched through the infinite space, somewhere in the 119,000 schedule (options) we looked at, was Detroit on the Monday Night Football schedule? Absolutely, yes.”
North further explained that the NFL doesn’t limit its view of national exposure through the lens of primetime games, but also include the 4:25 pm contests that air each week on Fox and CBS. What wasn’t noted by North is the Lions also failed to secure a game in one of those slots this season, as well.
But North was quick to point out that Detroit’s annual Thanksgiving Day slot remains one of the top-viewed games each season.
“The real thing for us, again, is we look at them as national windows,” North said. “We can never lose sight of the fact that that Thanksgiving afternoon window, that 12:30 window in Detroit, most years, is the No. 2 or No. 3 most-watched NFL game every year.
“There’s no hesitation to put the Lions in a national window like that,” North continued. “They were nothing if not frisky last year. They gave a lot of good teams a lot of good games. Having them on Thanksgiving, you can certainly make a pretty compelling argument they’re going to get a lot more eyeballs on that one than they would if they had one, standalone Monday night game or one standalone Thursday game.”
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More than 28 million fans tuned into Detroit’s Thanksgiving game against Chicago last season, the fourth-most watched regular season contest, despite the Lions entering that game winless, with an 0-9-1 record.
What was left unsaid is that lack of success last season, despite winning three of their final six games, ultimately plays the biggest role in keeping the Lions from more national appearances.
“How do we put that schedule out and make sure to balance all the needs of the teams and the competitive aspects, first and foremost, football, on the field?,” Onnie Bose, NFL vice president of broadcast, said during the call.
“Then, the considerations of media partners, new media partners, the reality of 272 games now and each of them representing an asset, maximizing that, and bringing our best games in the best windows to our fans. That’s the bottom line.”
Beyond the regular season schedule, the Lions figure to get plenty of national attention this year as the featured team on HBO’s documentary series “Hard Knocks.” The five-episode series will offer a behind-the-scenes look at the team through training camp.