Eagan, Minn. – The NFL It finally forced flexible scheduling on Thursday night in its broadcast window. Let’s hope the league never has to use it.
On Monday, 24 franchises voted in favor of a scheduling mechanism that would allow the league to flex in (or out of) “Thursday Night Football” games. Games are limited to weeks 13-17, decisions must be made 28 days before the game, there are a maximum of two Thursday night games that can be flexed from five options, and of course, games must be guaranteed to be flexed.
These are strict conditions that always set a high bar for success. The league implicitly acknowledges that this might be a bad idea by referring to it as a “one-season test of modified scheduling policies for flexible scheduling associated with the Thursday Night Football package.”
The league badly wanted to get this done during the March annual meetings in Arizona. Later, the league had to give teams 15 days’ notice instead of 28. I said the room was evenly split on the resolution before Giants co-owner John Mara stood up and called the idea “illegal.”
He was, of course, right. I have yet to speak to an NFL player who would say publicly or privately that he loves playing Thursday Night Football. The NFLPA is certainly not in favor of this.
But beyond that, the NFL encouraged fans to buy tickets as soon as the heavily prepared schedule was released two weeks ago. Fans make their plans early, and a prime-time game late in the season is one that fans at home or away want to lock in.
Travel costs money. Airfare is expensive. Hotel room prices go up when the city hosts an NFL game. It goes against the football-is-family ideal that the league espouses, to suggest that fans of any team playing five games could suffer and their plans may be futile in a few months.
“We’re incredibly focused on our fans in the stadium and what our fans are watching on screens and televisions everywhere,” NFL executive vice president and chief operating officer Hans Schroeder said Monday.
“I don’t want to think we’re not sensitive to that, we’ll do everything we can in how we communicate, how clear and quick we can be. But we try. On the other side of that, we’re balanced, we bring the right games into the right windows. That’s what we’re always going to be heavily weighted toward. “
This is to ensure that every single NFL game is a win. But I’ve maintained since the March meetings that unless Al Michaels complains as openly as he did about what he calls the poor fit, this flex isn’t even likely to be voted on.
No one wants a lemon in prime time but it happens. And guess what? Everyone tune in next week anyway.
Between the flexible game and the flexible game, more than 100,000 fans influence their plans. That means the four teams’ football operations staff will have to reorganize. Both host stadiums and cities must now change their staffing programs, be it concessions or at a hotel or restaurant.
This isn’t the Sunday night flex we’re all used to. Sliding a game up or down on a Sunday will inevitably have a negative impact on the entire on-the-ground process from Sunday to Thursday.
But the decision the league and owners made was that all those affected in those teams and cities amounted to far less than the number of people watching on a screen somewhere. That number is what matters.
“Very, very important thing,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Monday when he mentioned the difficulty to fans. “Every owner in that room breathes sensitivity to those fans. But only 7% of our fans have been inside the stadium. Seven. percent. So you’ve got a lot of fans — the majority of fans are outside — which is good for them.”
The games currently scheduled for Thursday nights in Weeks 13 through 17 are:
It’s a nice slate that the NFL’s schedule makers put together and gifted to all of us. Let’s just hope the NFL doesn’t steal it.