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Football Wreaks Havoc on Democratic Convention Schedule

Usually, the Republicans and Democrats each receive the same number of primetime hours on the three traditional broadcast networks for their quadrennial conventions. This year, the Republicans got four—from 10 to 11 this past Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (the Republicans had to cancel the events slotted for Monday because of Hurricane Isaac), while because of Labor Day, the Democrats got next Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. These 180 minutes, give or take (so far it has been give, since a certain empty chair caused the Republican National Convention to run late last night), arguably constitute the most valuable advertisements the parties will run over the whole campaign: long, frenzied, buzz-generating, and—from the perspective of purchasing airtime—free. Last Wednesday, about 22 million viewers watched Rep. Paul Ryan introduce himself to the country. Next Wednesday, the Democrats surely hope that as many will watch former President Clinton sing President Obama’s praises.

Except Clinton will only be shown on CBS, ABC, and various cable networks, and there is a good chance many likely viewers will be tuned to NBC instead.

The Democratic National Convention’s second night this year coincides with the National Football League’s regular season opener. Last year, more than 27 million fans tuned in to watch the regular season’s first game, between the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints. 27 million is a lot of pairs of eyeballs: more than any regularly scheduled program last year got. This year, the game is between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys, two teams from major media markets—one is from the biggest, the other is “America’s Team,” with the country’s largest fanbase. It is hard to believe that the Democrats will get the same viewership.

The other upshot is that Biden and Obama will be smushed together during Thursday’s hour. It is worth noting that in recent years the running mate has typically spoken the day before the presidential nominee, and that this is presumably for a reason. I have asked campaign spokespeople why Biden is speaking on Thursday, not Wednesday, and will update the post if I hear back.

Four years ago, the NFL accomodated the political convention it threatened to overlap a different way, moving the start-time of the traditional Thursday night opening game up to 7 p.m. in order not to overlap with Sen. John McCain’s acceptance speech. The (roughly) three-hour game left the Republicans’ precious broadcast primetime hours basically intact.

An earlier version of this post stated that Vice President Biden is speaking Wednesday night. He is speaking Thursday night. I regret the error.