Will the NFL’s 17th Regular Season Game Cash Grab Come Up Short of the Goal Line?

It’s back! The NFL’s exhibition season returns this week with a change. The preseason schedule decreases to three games while the regular season expands to 17 games.

Preseason 2021 kicks off with the Steelers and the Cowboys in the Hall of Fame game on August 5th just as the Olympics wind down.

Preseason games are not a ratings earner like the regular season games, and it will be interesting to see if the appetite for live sports and the NFL returns. Last year fell short of the predictions and assumed hype after the drought in live sports due to COVID.

Nevertheless, an additional regular season game figures to be a boon for the NFL and its players. The players’ share of league revenue, which had been 47% and was scheduled to rise to 48% starting with the 2021 league year, includes a “media kicker” that applies once the league goes to a 17-game regular-season schedule.

League revenues are expected to easily surpass 2019’s $15 billion figure under new TV deals which will go into effect in 2023, so player revenue numbers figure to increase significantly. It feels like a fair trade off to play one more game, especially pre-season is limited to three games.

The networks win too- yet another game to broadcast. Despite COVID’s shadow, expect to see packed stadiums and renewed interest in watching.

The Olympic telecasts on NBC saw a decline in linear ratings for the opening ceremony and first week of prime time coverage and a decrease from 2016.  However, there were thousands of hours and increased options to watch via streaming resulting in increases across digital platforms compared to prior years. Don’t think the NFL doesn’t notice this trend as they continue to evolve their media deals.

Keep in mind, too, that sports betting, just approved in Maryland, will continue to grow which will also feed the 17-game season cash cow.

Purists will argue that this 17th game is bad for the game:

  • More injury risk
  • Increased resting of stars at the end of the year
  • Less focus on divisional matchups
  • “Asterisk” stats from previous 16 game seasons for the record books

These arguments are fair, but the NFL will continue to walk the line of potentially watering down their product in the name of making more money.

We know that many NFL teams are heavily invested in analytics these days. Calculating the chances of converting a 4th and 1 is just as important as finding the point of diminishing returns where it’s no longer profitable to change NFL traditions. I’m sure the NFL has plenty of nerds performing those calculations daily.

This blog post was written by Julie Block Padden, Account Manager



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