CINCINNATI — Looking for a balance between good games, good television and ultimately good money for the NFL, the team putting the 2022-23 NFL schedule together began their work the week after Super Bowl LVI.
“It's really an exercise in pain management,” said Michael North, vice president of broadcast planning and scheduling for the NFL.
For months North and his team have put together the ingredients they hope make the perfect bowl of football soup. With the hope of serving up a schedule that can satisfy everyone. Although, he admits they can never make everyone happy.
“The day the schedule comes out, every team is disappointed in something, every fan's got something to complain about. That's probably good,” North said. “You know, if everybody's just a little bit disappointed, we probably did about what we were shooting to do if some team is really, really angry or worse if some team is thrilled. You know, that's probably not our best product.”
North said when putting the match-ups together his team’s goal is to maximize viewership and fan interest all while managing competitive issues.
“So some of them we go into the season knowing that's must-see TV. We're not doing our jobs if that's at 1 p.m. on a Sunday, available in 9% of the country. It's gotta be in prime time,” North said. “Or if you're going to put it at 1 p.m., maybe you put it late in the season so that if the Sunday night game that you put there doesn't pan out, you can flex out of it, move that one back to Sunday afternoon ... now you got a game sitting there at 1 p.m. that you thought might only go to 22% but now they're both in the playoff chase. This means a lot more. Let's move that one to prime now everybody can see it. Is it perfect? Of course not.”
When WCPO 9 News spoke to North in Los Angeles as part of Super Bowl coverage, he said Cincinnati's winning season would certainly play a factor in how the new schedule is put together, factoring in the above-mentioned filters.
He recalled the Kansas City match-up last season and how its positioning in the schedule made a difference in the fan experience and could have implications on the Bengals' schedule this season.
“You could have played that in Week 2, and it probably would have been over and done with and forgotten,” North said. “The fact that since he beat him in December and then goes and beats him again a month later, now, that KC/Cincy game next season takes on a whole new meaning. I don't think we're going to put it in a CBS 1 p.m. window. I think that one's heading for a national window.”
North said their computers have whirled nonstop on schedules for months. He claims they kick out some 800,000 versions that his scheduling team pulls from, admitting there’s not enough time in a year to look through all of them.
“They've all got a scoring system on them, so you kind of pick the best," North said. "You grind through them and say, 'OK, here's what we learned on this one. Yes, no, yes, no. Here's what we learned on this one. Yes, no, yes, no.' Stop all the computers, write a bunch of new rules, run them again."
North said when Howard Katz, the NFL’s senior vice president of broadcasting, thinks they have the best possible options for schedules together he green lights them to head to Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has the final say.
As for Bengals fans, they likely can expect to cheer on the likes of Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase under the bright lights of prime-time football.
“I think you're gonna find the Bengals game in a lot more of those big game middle, big game late Thursday night, Monday night, Sunday night,” North said. “That's you know the cost of success, but it's a great problem to have.”
The NFL plans to release the full TV schedule on the night of May 12.