There was never any doubt the NFL would grow its regular-season schedule to 17 games once the labor agreement with the players union was reached a year ago. More games, more money and more flexibility for America's most popular sport.
Potentially, more injuries for the guys on the field, too, though Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league executives cite data compiled with the NFL Players Association showing preseason games are more dangerous to health and safety than a match that matters.
There have been protests since early March 2020 and will continue to be from players about the reconfiguring of the 20-game maximum to 17 that count and three exhibitions. Their chance to make a strong stand against it came and went during those CBA negotiations. And the union members will see their portion of shareable revenues rise from 47% to 48.5%.
Thanks to the recent broadcast agreements that soon will bring in about $10 billion a year, the salary cap will spike upward in the post-pandemic seasons after the nearly $16 million drop this year. So the players will profit on that end, too.
But they could have gotten more out of the 17-game machinations when it became clear the 32 team owners were steadfast in their desire to add a regular-season contest — as were the TV networks that would get more “inventory.” Fewer than three preseason games, for instance. Certainly a second bye week to accompany the extra game would have been wise. That would have pushed the Super Bowl back by two weeks instead of the seven days under the format approved Tuesday, but the league has had an eye on playing the title game on Presidents Day weekend for a while.
Larger rosters than what came out of the CBA, which would have provided clubs with more salaries, of course, but more options for handling injury issues, and that would have benefited players as well.
Regardless, here we are with the preseason reduced to three games except for the teams in the Hall of Fame game. And the regular season kicking off on Sept. 9 and ending exactly four months later.
And here we are with plenty of winners.
Once again, the unchallenged king of U.S. sports flexed its muscles. Goodell and the billionaire team owners got 17 games after getting huge TV deals after getting a 10-year labor agreement done before COVID-19 fully hit America.
And while no one beats a pandemic, the NFL got all of its 2020 schedule done on time, as well as the playoffs. It even managed to get $1.2 million fans into buildings over 199 attended contests.
"This is a monumental moment in NFL history,” Goodell said. “The CBA with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans. And one of the benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world.”
Hey, folks, there are going to be more games and more options how to consume those games. There will be some flexing of matches off Monday night — please, no more Minnesota at Chicago matchups in mid-November. More and better late-season national telecasts.
And now, with an interconference 17th game, some intriguing faceoffs that could wind up on the biggest stages: Aaron Rodgers versus Patrick Mahomes, for example.
By adding No. 17, the NFL can direct more content abroad. Not just for London and Mexico City, although both will be front and center in such scheduling. Canada, Germany, Brazil and other members of the UK are being looked at.
Pre-pandemic, the league might even have embraced staging all of the 16 extra games in neutral sites. That's probably not under consideration any longer, but opening up to new horizons is more manageable.
What's better than carrying the highest-rated sport, and often the highest-rated overall programming, for 17 weeks (including byes)? Making it 18 weeks, with another meaningful match.
As the ratings and the advertising dollars and, not to be overlooked, the hefty amount of betting on games or involvement in fantasy football all display, the NFL's place atop the entertainment pantheon is secure. That might even last beyond Tom Brady's final game.
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