EAGAN, Minn. — The NFL finally forced Thursday night flex scheduling into its broadcast window. Let’s hope the league never has to use it.
On Monday, 24 owners voted in favor of a scheduling mechanism by which the league will be able to flex into (or out of) “Thursday Night Football” games. The games are limited only to Weeks 13-17, the decision must be made no later than 28 days in advance of the game, there’s a maximum of two Thursday night games that can be flexed out of the five options and, of course, the game has to warrant being flexed out of.
It’s a heavy set of conditions that set a high bar for this ever coming to fruition. And the league makes the tabcit admission that it could be a bad idea by noting this is a “one-season trial of modified scheduling policies for flexible scheduling in connection with the Thursday Night Football package.”
The league badly wanted this to pass during the annual meetings in March in Arizona. Then, the league had to give teams 15 days’ notice instead of 28. I’m told the room was fairly evenly split on the resolution before Giants co-owner John Mara stood up and called the idea “abusive.”
He is, of course, correct. I’ve yet to speak to one NFL player who will publicly or privately say they like playing football on a Thursday night. The NFLPA certainly isn’t in favor of this.
But beyond that, the NFL encouraged fans to buy tickets as soon as its heavily produced schedule release took place a few weeks ago. Fans make their plans well in advance, and a primetime game late in the season is one a fan of the home or away side will want to lock in.
Travel costs money. Airfare is expensive. The cost of a hotel room spikes when the city is hosting an NFL game. To tell fans of either of the teams playing in the five contests who could be impacted that their plans may be worth nothing in a few months seems to go against the Football Is Family ideal the league pushes.
“We’re incredibly focused on our fans in the stadium, we’re focused on our fans watching from screens and televisions everywhere else,” NFL EVP and chief operating officer Hans Schroder said Monday.
“I don’t want at all to think we’re not being sensitive to that and we’ll do our best on how we communicate, how we do that as clearly and as early as we can. But we’re also trying to balance on the other side of that that we’re getting the right games into the right windows. And that’s something we’re always going to weigh heavily.”
This is about making sure every standalone NFL game is a hit. But I’ve maintained since the March meetings that it’s more than likely this flex wouldn’t even be an option to vote upon if Al Michaels hadn’t openly complained as much as he did about the bad matchup he was calling.
No one wants a lemon in primetime but they happen. And guess what? Everyone tunes in the following week anyway.
Between a game that’s flexed out and a game that’s flexed in, that’s 100,000-plus fans having their plans impacted. That’s four teams whose football operations staff have to readjust. That’s two host stadiums and cities that now have to change their staffing plans, be it in concessions or in a hotel or at a restaurant.
This isn’t a Sunday night flex, something we’ve all gotten used to. Sliding a game up or down on Sunday doesn’t have the sort of negative impact on an entire on-the-ground operation the way going from Sunday to Thursday inevitably will.
But the determination the league and the owners have made is that, all of those people above who are impacted across those teams and cities equal a number that is far less than the number of people who will be watching on a screen somewhere. And that number is what matters.
“Very, very important point,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Monday when the inconvenience to the fans was mentioned. “Every owner in that room lives and breathes sensitivity to those fans. But only 7% of our fans have ever been inside a stadium. Seven. Percent. So you’ve got a lot of fans — a huge majority of the fans that are out there — that this is good for them.”
The games currently slated for Thursday nights in Weeks 13 through 17 are Seahawks at Cowboys, Patriots at Steelers, Chargers at Raiders, Saints at Rams and Jets at Browns.
That’s a fairly decent slate the NFL’s schedule makers put together and gifted us all. Let’s hope the NFL doesn’t screw it up.