Much like red beans and rice, the Saints and primetime go hand in hand. Never had this been more evident than in 2011 when the Saints went 5-1 in nationally televised primetime games. Most notably the Saints went 5-0 at home after sunset during that span. Primetime has been good to the Saints and the Saints have been good to primetime. The Saints showed strong numbers for NBC and ESPN with solid viewership each time the team was featured.
The Saints have become a good draw for the networks due to a record-shattering offense and its' history making quarterback Drew Brees. The highest number was a 19.3 rating for NBC's Wild Card game vs Detroit and the lowest being the dismantling of the Indianapolis Colts which garnered an 8.2 rating. And some would argue that the reason for such a low number in this game was the absence of Peyton Manning and the fact that the competitive aspect of the game was over after the first quarter, which tuned out casual viewers.
With night games becoming a virtual lock for wins in the eyes of Saints fans, much anticipation had been placed on which games on the 2012 schedule would be in the coveted primetime slots. Now that Roger Goodell has begun to "drop the hammer" on the Saints organization, many wonder if the Saints will play in any primetime games at all in 2012.
Will the NFL blacklist the Saints from primetime games this season?
Well, it's hard to say, as there really isn't much precedent for what is being done to the Saints this year. The closest examples of scandal and discipline in the Roger Goodell era are the 2007 "Spygate" Patriots and Michael Vick's 2009 reinstatement following his release from prison. In both of these cases there was little if no reduction in national exposure for these organizations.
In 2007, the New England Patriots played in six primetime games during the "Spygate" season. Of course the schedule had been made before the scandal broke, but in Week 17 the Pats - Giants finale was scheduled to air in primetime on the NFL network and the NFL allowed a simulcast between the NFL Network, NBC, and CBS. The NFL wanted everyone to be able to see the undefeated regular season happen, but where was the moral judgment of Roger Goodell in this case? Interesting, isn't it?
In 2008, after judgment on "Spygate" had been passed down, the Patriots saw no negligible drop off in primetime games. They played in four night games that season. Obviously, despite the scandal, the Patriots were still good for business.
Since the 2010 season Michael Vick has started at quarterback in 10... yes, 10 primetime games for the Philadelphia Eagles. Starting with his highly touted win against Jim Haslett's dominant defense (sorry, couldn't help it) in Washington, Vick was aggressively marketed by the networks and the NFL in promotions and all forms of advertising. The most blatant example being Vick's Eagles getting "flexed" into primetime in Week 16 of 2010 against Minnesota so the league could get more exposure for a player Goodell had suspended for two weeks just a season before, following his prison sentence.
Will Roger Goodell contradict himself by now blacklisting the Saints? It seems as though precedence has been set and dollars may very well win out over ego. The Patriots and Michael Vick have been lucrative for the NFL and the networks despite past indiscretions. Whether the Saints are afforded the same chances will be be the big question here.
The Saints have been a staple in primetime in the Payton/Brees era with 20 regular season appearances since 2006. Even in lean years the Saints found themselves on Monday Night Football with some regularity, maybe the decision-makers wanted to gift the cast and crew with a fun trip down to New Orleans for a few days. The exposure has been good for the Saints organization and the Saints brand. The home games in particular must be good for the local economy, giving the city a great deal of exposure to the rest of the country. The commercial bumpers the networks use featuring local musicians, clubs, and restaurants are basically free advertisements for the city.
Prime time has meant wins on the field and for the community in respect to the Saints and New Orleans. The actions of both the Saints brass and Roger Goodell have done enough damage to Saints fans and the community of New Orleans. So, to the NFL, NBC, and ESPN, don't take this away as well, too much damage has already been done. Don't ask the fans of the NFL and the Saints alike to pay for the sins of the organization.