Every year, much is written about the broadcasting of National Football League games, which change timeslots and networks and draw various large amounts of viewers. Not much, however, is written about something that rarely ever changes during the NFL season: pre-game shows. Every Tuesday for the first four weeks of the season, we'll review one of the five major football networks' pre-game shows.
I'll be honest, I was not looking forward to doing this one. Just for the pure DVR space, NFL Network's four-hour football extravaganza, Gameday Morning is hell. I briefly flirted with the idea of just going with the network's pre-game show for Thursday Night Football, or even the First on the Field show that airs from 7-9 a.m. ET, just to save time. The Gameday Morning show, however, is their official Sunday pre-game show and must be the one that is used.
Much like Football Night in America, Gameday Morning has a bit of an unfair advantage over ... well, pretty much every network except ESPN, which has a three-hour pre-game show. They not only aren't beholden to any particular games on Sunday, they have four freaking hours. They can let stories breathe and last a while, they will be the first on TV to report breaking news, and due to the NFL's largesse, can find a way to be on site at literally every game and have as many insiders as they want. The question is, do they use all of those advantages to the fullest, or get bogged down in inane banter?
This is the other reservation I have with NFL Network's pre-game show: it tries to make stars and personalities out of its analysts as much as any network not called Fox. Warren Sapp, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders all have made a life outside of football, and Kurt Warner's sob story has been told time and again, while Steve Mariucci ... is a person, too. Even Rich Eisen has created a bit of a cult fandom with his beloved (by me, at least) podcast. So, this ought to be interesting. Let's do it to it.
Everything in sports is chopped up into statistics nowadays, and every statistic is made into a catchy acronym. The best we could do was PSER (Pre-game Show Efficiency Rating). It sounds kinda football-ish, right? Anyway, PSER is based on a rating of 1-10 in five categories: Host Usefulness (HU), Quality of Banter Rating (QB Rating), Bloated Promotions (BP), Actual News Gathering (ANG) and Impact Rating (IR).
Host Usefulness: I'll make it clear that Rich Eisen is probably my favorite sports TV host at the moment. Not only does he host one of the best podcasts in all of podcast-land, he's also funny, engaging, able to get everyone involved on the fun, and understands what certain other hosts (coughBermanCostascough) seem to forget: we're watching a friggin' sports show. Keep us informed, keep things intelligent, but hey, we're here to have fun. Eisen is great at striking this balance. He is the cream of the crop in my opinion. Score: 10.
QB Rating: A discussion on the impact of the return to regular officials lasted nearly three minutes, with all five analysts getting a chance to weigh in, uninterrupted. There simply isn't airspace for that on the other networks. They use that format for almost the entirety of the four hours. While there is the occasional over-laughing at the forced humor (NFL Network's larger crew can make it sound like the Married with Children audience at times) the yuks are kept to as much of a minimum as they can. I particularly enjoy the wild-card nature of Sanders and Michael Irvin, and Warner can come off a tad droll. But Eisen manages to tie it all together: he's the quarterback, and a good one. Score: 8
Bloated Promotions: The minute I saw Elmo make his first of many appearances on Gameday Morning, I got really depressed, because I thought to myself, "Oh God, I'm gonna have to take down Elmo." I'm sorry, but as adorable as the little guy is, having him appear throughout the show to promote the 43rd season of Sesame Street counts as cross-promotion and a deduction. Other than that, things were kept largely calm, beyond the usual sponsorships of segments (and even the show, which is presented by Pizza Hut). Elmo is a bit too much, however. The child in me has officially died. Score: 4.
Actual News Gathering: Here's where Gameday Morning beats out everyone else: the news is not just the news, it's a driving point for discussion. C.J. Spiller's injury becomes the subject of the debate, and then we move on to the next news story. We kick it out to a reporter in Atlanta, come back and talk about what he or she reported on. The NFL makes the most of having the most, in terms off access and airtime.
As I mentioned before, the NFL Network is capable of being in any of the stadiums hosting a game as they so please, and they make good use of almost all of them. I still believe CBS and Fox should make use of their analysts and do a whip-around to each of their games, which would cut time that is currently reserved for banter. When you're on for four hours, however, you get to have your cake and eat it too, and at NFL Network, it tastes delicious. Mmmm ... football cake. Score: 9
Impact Rating: One of the spots where having a four-hour show can hurt, as very little stuck with me the next day. It would've been like that old Simpsons gag, where whenever he learns something new, something old falls out of his brain. If I'd remembered Mariucci's take on Matt Ryan today, I'd have forgotten how to drive. On NFL Network, everything is immediate, and nothing really stands to last beyond that day, which for what they do is just fine. Score: 4
Overall PSER: 7.00
1. NFL Gameday Morning (NFL Net) - 7.00
2. Football Night in America (NBC) - 6.80
3. The NFL Today (CBS) - 5.20
4. Fox NFL Sunday (Fox) - 4.20
(Next up: ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown)