It's the lifeblood of any organization whose goal is to entertain the masses. It doesn't matter if you're a television network, an independent radio station, or a professional sports league. If you can get your consumers to figuratively "circle the date," then you're winning.
Of our pro sports leagues, the NFL is the runaway leader in dotting their offseason with circle-able dates. If you're a true NFL fan, every year you look forward to the draft, the start of training camp, and the day the district attorney says they don't have enough to convict Ben Roethlisberger.
Underrated among the destination programming dates to me is the release of the upcoming season's schedule. The 2011 schedule was released earlier this week, and the Texans' slate looks like this:
Sun, Sept 11 vs Indianapolis (12:00 PM) Sun, Sept 18 @ Miami (3:15 PM) Sun, Sept 25 @ New Orleans (12:00 PM) Sun, Oct 2 vs Pittsburgh (12:00 PM) Sun, Oct 9 vs Oakland (12:00 PM) Sun, Oct 16 @ Baltimore (3:05 PM) Sun, Oct 23 @ Tennessee (12:00 PM) Sun, Oct 30 vs Jacksonville (12:00 PM) Sun, Nov 6 vs Cleveland (12:00 PM) Sun, Nov 13 @ Tampa Bay (12:00 PM)
WEEK 11 BYE
Sun, Nov 27 @ Jacksonville (12:00 PM) Sun, Dec 4 vs Atlanta (12:00 PM) Sun, Dec 11 @ Cincinnati (12:00 PM) Sun, Dec 18 vs Carolina (12:00 PM) Thur, Dec 22 @ Indianapolis (7:20 PM) Sun, Jan 1 vs Tennessee (12:00 PM)
Quick observations before I get to the part of this post that really matters:
1. No Monday night games, and only one primetime game (Thursday before Christmas against the Colts). That's down from four last year. The good news? Fewer funky work weeks with strange practice schedules makes for a more normal routine, I guess. Bad news? That's three fewer capacity nights for sports bar owners (Note: My radio show has two sports bars as sponsors). Terrible news? Prime time appearances and how good you are generally have directly proportional relationships (except for the Cowboys). Translation: The schedule maker says go ahead and make those January vacation plans, Texan season ticket holder.
2. The home games all have the ultra-lame noon kickoff, which means (depending on how lazy or ambitious you are) either a) no sleeping in all season and/or b) no extended pre-game tailgating like you get with a late start. Getting your home games lumped in with the eight or nine other early games for the entire season is generally another sign that Señor Schedule is not really down with your squad.
3. Lots of warm weather roadies! We need to find a way to cross over with the NFC South every year. Downside: LSU is at West Virginia the weekend the Texans play the Saints. Would've been a nice Baton Rouge/NOLA double dip if they were home.
Okay, now to the part that matters -- how will the Texans do?
Of course, making a reasonable prediction this early is silly, fruitless, and a waste of time (...which explains why every sports talk radio host does it on his show). This much I do know -- the Colts are good. So are the Saints. The Steelers, they're pretty good, too. And last I checked, the Ravens weren't a bad squad either.
Those are four of the Texans' first six opponents.
We're coming up on a decade, people. The time to worry about style points is over. It's been over for a few years actually. Playoffs, by any means necessary. To that end, the simple three-word solution to the Texans' playoff drought:
Extended work stoppage.
The players and owners broke off talks again yesterday until May 16, and the entire collective bargaining process right now is being conducted under the cloud of an antitrust lawsuit from the now decertified players' union. Basically, this is some complicated shit we're dealing with here!
So to both players and the owners, I beg of you -- take your time. Make sure you have all of the clauses mapped properly and that you're looking out for the next generation of players. Cross the t's, dot the i's. Hundreds of times if you have to. In fact, I would relax and resume the talks sometime in late August, then give yourself a good six weeks to hammer out a deal that will make everyone happy long-term.
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Trust me, the fans will be okay with this. (Shhhhhhhhhhh...yes, you will, fans....) If the cost of having a deal that is absolutely perfect for both sides is, say, SIX weeks of the NFL season, so be it.
And if that means the Texans won't get to play the Colts, Saints, Steelers, and Ravens....well, that's just a price we'll have to pay.
(If this were TV, this is where I'd smirk at the fourth wall as the screen fades to black.)
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.