When the Bulls’ schedule came out in August and I was typing it onto a page in the Sun-Times, I stopped at the home game Jan. 12 against the Nets. Tipoff time: 9 p.m. Central.
I couldn’t recall seeing a Bulls home game – or any local game for that matter – with a scheduled start time that late. Blackhawks fans can recall, with great disdain, 8:30 scheduled starts for playoff games that didn’t begin until 8:45. But 9 p.m. starts here are for games on the West Coast, where it’s 7.
As usual, TV is the reason behind it. Nets-Bulls is the second game of an ESPN doubleheader, following Mavericks-Knicks. I asked ESPN why such a late start was necessary for a game in the Central time zone.
“To create consistency with national TV doubleheaders, the NBA schedules those windows at 7:30 and 10 Eastern,” said Matt Kenny, the head of pro basketball and combat sports programming and acquisitions for ESPN and ESPN+. “That obviously has the impact of pushing that late game into the 9 o’clock Central time window, which is the case for Bulls-Nets next week.”
ESPN has aired or is scheduled to air home games for only three other Central-time teams at 9 p.m.: the Timberwolves on Dec. 17, the Grizzlies next Friday and the Bucks on Jan. 28. The Bulls appeared in that window Nov. 12, but it was at Golden State.
Tipoff times aside, ESPN is looking to add to the Bulls’ four scheduled appearances. The network has flexed games a few times already this season, and the Bulls deliver a strong brand and big market.
“We’re always keeping an eye out to take advantage of teams and storylines that are of interest to fans,” Kenny said. “We absolutely are keeping an eye on the Bulls. We are very enthusiastic about them and couldn’t be happier with their strong start. We certainly hope that it continues.”
Former Chicago radio voice Dave Pasch will call the Nets-Bulls game with analyst Mark Jackson.
Monday figures to be a big day on the city’s sports-radio stations with the anticipated firing of Bears coach Matt Nagy. The Score will have its usual “Bears Monday” bonanza, and ESPN 1000 will air local shows from 5 a.m. until kickoff of the Georgia-Alabama college football championship at 7 p.m.
Speaking of the national championship, ESPN unveiled its MegaCast plans, which include the Film Room with Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher and assistants among the network’s 13 presentations of the game. ESPN will use about 100 cameras and 100 microphones inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Bears’ season finale Sunday against the Vikings will reach only 9% of Fox’s early-window coverage, which basically amounts to the Chicago, Indianapolis and Minneapolis markets. Gus Johnson and Aqib Talib will call the action, with Megan Olivi reporting.