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Sports Business

NFL schedule-makers kick Colts in gut

April 18, 2012
KEYWORDS Sports Business

So much for not kicking a man when he’s down.

The Indianapolis Colts and its owner, Jim Irsay, got a good swift kick in the gut with the release of the 2012 schedule Tuesday night.

The Colts, coming off a 2-14 season, are only scheduled to play one prime-time game. And to make matters worse, it isn’t until week 10 of the season against the Jacksonville Jaguars—not exactly considered a classy date to the prom. To cap it off, it’s at Jacksonville.

Last year, the Colts were scheduled for five prime-time games with two of those at home. The Colts stank so bad last year, the NFL bounced them out of the prime-time line-up in week 13. After getting humiliated in prime-time in week seven at New Orleans, team officials might have been happy about the week 13 move.

Still, the 2012 schedule is a big hit to Irsay and his franchise, not to mention the team’s corporate partners. Companies like Lucas Oil depend on the national spotlight to make big-dollar sponsorship deals pay dividends.

The Colts sales department has some explaining to do. I’m not sure there are any answers, though, for this schedule. The Colts sales department will also have to assure sponsors and prospective sponsors that this type of scheduling won’t be the norm going forward.

Andrew Luck, widely expected to be the No. 1 selection in this month’s draft, should go a long way toward alleviating those fears. Then again, it’s a bit mystifying why the best college quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning and John Elway wouldn’t command a little more attention from NFL schedule makers during his rookie season.

Some Colts fans might ask, “Who really cares?” After all, fans can watch all the games on local TV. And what’s it to me if Irsay loses a little sponsorship money or his staff has to hustle more to secure those deals?

The city of Indianapolis also loses out. Organizations like the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association count on publicity from those Thursday, Sunday and Monday night prime-time games to pump up Indy’s image.

Those shots of Monument Circle, Georgia Street, Victory Field and our downtown canal beamed out to tens of millions of households nationwide are priceless. No one cringed more over the Colts’ 2012 schedule than ICVA CEO Leonard Hoops, the mayor and his economic development crew.

The Colts’ appearance on prime-time TV would have been an ideal opportunity for Indianapolis to get some nice mentions about the way it hosted last season’s Super Bowl. Many of those opportunities, sadly, will be lost.

How would Indianapolis officials and Colts fans like a side of salt for your wound? Well, here you go.

For the first time in franchise history the Denver Broncos are scheduled to open the season with back-to-back prime-time games. It’s also the second time in team history Denver has been scheduled to play five prime-time games in a season—the most allowed by the NFL.

Wow, five prime-time games for the Broncos and their new quarterback, Peyton Manning! Suddenly, that $28 million signing bonus to retain No. 18 doesn’t look so big. Maybe Mayor Greg Ballard should have put together an incentive package to keep Manning here.

Certainly the anticipation to see how Manning does with his new team after missing the entire 2011 season will span far beyond the borders of Indiana and Colorado.

But what about five prime-time games each for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears? Yes, Pittsburgh is a football hotbed and Chicago is a massive market, but c’mon, man. The Bears and Lions play in prime time for crying out loud.

Is there no love for Indy? Apparently not at the NFL’s New York headquarters.

It’s truly time for this team to rebuild. They’ve rebuilt their front office and coaching staff. They’re re-building their roster.

With tickets still for sale for next season, Colts officials have to rebuild their relationship with fans and polish their image with sponsors.

As if the team’s to-do list isn’t long enough, they need to add one more thing.

Restore the faith of the NFL schedule makers.

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