Gonzo at Daily Norseman is hosting this week's discussion regarding small market teams and their prime time TV appearances. The following was posted in the comments to the above linked article.
It was surprising that TV ratings weren't discussed. It's all about which games are more likely to bring in the 18-34 males. The networks seem to pick games because they've got a hook that makes them think they can sell the game, even if the hook is laughable. For example, at the NFL Network, the press release hypes the 2007 slate of games they will show in prime time. One game is Cincinnati at San Francisco on Dec. 15th and is described as a "rematch of [the] thrilling" Super Bowls 16 and 23 that were played back when QB Alex Smith wasn't even alive or was a toddler. Or the rematch of the classic Ice Bowl between Dallas and Green Bay on Nov. 29th, despite the fact it will be played in Dallas and one would assume without as much ice. The entire 2007 NFL Network schedule is an odd match of playoff teams vs. non-playoff teams from 2006. I wonder if the NFL Network has to walk a fine line between the other networks and not take away an obviously good game each week from the networks that are shelling out so much for the TV rights.
However the 2007 Sunday Night Football schedule is filled with teams that made the playoffs. The first non-playoff team from 2006 to appear on Sunday night will be the Packers when they host Chicago in week 5. Obviously there is something special about the ratings when Chicago plays the Packers. One oddity with the NBC schedule is that the games appear strong through week 14, and then they picked three stinkers (Washington at NY Giants, Tampa Bay at San Francisco, and Kansas City at NY Jets) to end the season. There is no way the Madden cruiser is going from New York to San Francisco and then back to New York in December over a three week period. Maybe they just didn't care because they knew they would pick different games in November and December when the flexible scheduling kicks in.
The Packers had the prime-time spotlight in 2006 because there were some EXCITING !!! story lines like Green Bay at Seattle, Holmgren vs. Favre one last time (maybe), and the flexible schedule shifted the last regular season game to Green Bay at Chicago for Favre's LAST GAME !!! (oops). NBC has the chance to pick a legitimate week 17 game with playoff implications and it picks the game QB Rex Grossman doesn't even bother to prepare for.
I tried to find TV ratings online that show whether certain teams typically draw better national ratings. Although the data certainly exists, it isn't available to the public, as far as I could tell. Fox Sports seems to do the most bragging about ratings online and said the NFC championship game with New Orleans at Chicago was the highest rated championship game since 1997 when Carolina went to Green Bay. The 1997 NFC championship game was an interesting game to the casual fan since the Packers were having their best season since Lombardi was still their coach and Carolina had made a quick leap from expansion team to one win away from a Super Bowl. Despite subsequent NFC championship game appearances by mega market teams like the NY Giants and multiple Philadelphia appearances, small market Carolina and uber-small market Green Bay played in one of the most watched non-Super Bowl games in the last 10 years, despite the fact it was a lousy game and the Packers destroyed them. It doesn't seem like the networks look at small vs. big market teams, and instead look at what they think will sell.