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What's Going On? ESPN Says Sundays are for Bowling?

Matthew GilmartinSenior Analyst IAugust 15, 2008

As my brother and I played ping pong this afternoon, we overheard a TV commercial advertising ESPN's coverage of the coming Monday night's football game on Monday Night Football.  

Then my brother said, "Y'know, it's really strange how ESPN covers the one Monday night NFL game every week during the NFL season. They even cover a lot of preseason football even though none of those games matter.  But they air other sports, namely professional bowling, on Sunday afternoons during football season.

And that's when I got the idea to write this article.  The enigmatic hue of his observation really struck me.  I got to thinking, "Yeah, they do."  At first, possible reasons for this enigma eluded me, but then I figured it out.

By airing pro bowling, ESPN is trying to cater to a more obscure audience in an effort to boost their ratings.  In theory, that should work.  But I can't see how it does.  NFL football is one of the biggest ratings-grabbing sports in the country, if not the biggest.  I don't know how many people actually watch PBA bowling on Sundays instead of football, but it can't be many.

Besides, ESPN says to itself, "We already cover NFL football on Monday Night Football.  I'll grant that that is true.  But it's only one freakin' game per week!  There are more than a dozen games played each week.  Surely, if nothing else, ESPN could buy the rights to televise a couple Sunday games each week.

But even when the PBA tour's season—or whatever they call it—ends, ESPN still doesn't air any NFL games.  It's always some other program that still wouldn't come close to bringing in the level of ratings that NFL games would bring in.  I think a couple examples are the World Series of Poker, or even the National Spelling Bee.  You read that right—the Spelling Bee, for crying out loud!  I simply don't understand why ESPN would televise either of these things over NFL football.     

Maybe there's a variable in this equation unknown to me.  Maybe CBS or Fox bought exclusive rights to air NFL games.  But I don't know how both networks would end up being able to televise games if one or the other bought out rights to the games.  Or why, if one of those networks really did buy rights to broadcast the games, the network didn't buy the rights to all of them—unless it didn't have enough money to splurge on all of them, which doesn't seem plausible. 

I just don't understand why ESPN airs niche programs, mainly pro bowling, over NFL football on Sunday afternoons during NFL season.  Do you?       

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