NFL’s controversial ‘Thursday Night Football’ flex scheduling decision reflects league’s priorities

EAGAN, Minn. — An NFL proposal that narrowly failed in March has now passed.

NFL TV fans, rejoice. NFL game attendees: beware.

NFL team owners approved a proposal that will allow Thursday night games to be flexed to Sunday And vice versa.

The proposal will have some of the restrictions that already existed for games that were flexed into and out of Sunday night slots. Flexes are permitted during only the final five eligible weeks of the regular season — Weeks 13 to 17, as “Thursday Night Football” isn’t on the Week 18 schedule. Flexing is limited to two games a season. No team can be moved into or out of the Thursday slot.

But the proposal remains controversial.

NFL team owners include New York Giants’ John Mara and Pittsburgh Steelers’ Art Rooney blasted a version of this proposal in March. Two of the eight owners who voted against the proposal on Monday were these two owners.

The top concern: What about fans scheduling travel to games … only for the game to later be moved three days earlier or later?

Hans Schroeder, the NFL’s executive vice president and chief operating officer of NFL Media, said fans were already accustomed to shifting schedules from “Sunday Night Football” and “Monday Night Football” flex options in place.

“We have Week 18 games, where all games are listed as ‘TBDs’ and could go any time on Saturday afternoon or Sunday,” Schroeder said. “And we have wild-card, divisional and playoff games that could get scheduled on short notice. So I don’t want fans to think we aren’t going to be sensitive to that and won’t do our best to communicate thoroughly and as early as we can.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 21: Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, signs autographs for fans prior to the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Dallas Cowboys at Arrowhead Stadium on November 21, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

Jerry Jones, Cowboys’ owner, who is pictured in Kansas City at an Arrowhead Stadium game in 2021, commented on the decision to allow Thursday night games to be flex scheduled: “Everyone in that room lives, breathes, and loves his fans.” He knows the importance of each one. But only 7 percent of our fans have ever been inside a stadium — 7 percent. And so we’ve got a lot of fans, a huge majority of the fans out there, and this is good for them.” (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images).

Does a Friday night flex benefit or harm fans?

Some team owners were unhappy with the timeline for that communication. In March, two votes were not enough to pass the bill. Changing the advance notice requirement from 15 days’ minimum to 28 swayed club owners.

At league meetings, a few team owners and presidents argued that television programming has a greater impact on fans than game experiences.

This is a decision that they consider to be fan-friendly.

“Very important point to everybody in that room,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “Every owner in that room lives and breathes sensitivity to his fans. He knows the importance of each one.

“But only 7 percent of our fans have ever been inside a stadium — 7 percent. And so we’ve got a lot of fans, a huge majority of the fans out there, and this is good for them.”

With league broadcast deals and viewership metrics heavily influencing the league’s bottom line, so, too, will they heavily influence scheduling decisions.

“We’re also trying to balance how we make sure, on the other side, that we’re getting the right games into the right windows,” Schroeder said. “That’s something we’re always going to weigh heavily and take into decisions any time we flex very seriously.

“So from a fan perspective, watch, keep your eyes out, know there are more and more games particularly later in the year that have potential to move.”

Travel complications would arise for thousands of fans who attend the games. Schroeder says that due to this and other operational concerns, the bar for schedule changes will be higher than Sunday or Monday flex scenarios.

“It’s going to have to be a situation where it’s really clear and really apparent that the game shouldn’t stay on a standalone basis on Thursday night,” Schroeder said.

Is this the new frontier?

This move could have a smaller impact than public outcry suggests, as it only happens two times per year.

Still, it’s clear that the decision is based on a philosophy that prioritizes stadium products over broadcast ones. Are streaming relationships also given priority by the NFL over traditional TV partnerships?

The league has announced its plans to expand. exclusively live stream a playoff game this postseason. Peacock, NBC’s streaming arm, will air a prime-time Saturday wild-card game.

Amazon is now a major player in the streaming of “Thursday Night Football”.

Schroeder said the league will be “very respectful of our arrangements and commitments to CBS and Fox.”

But even the company line doesn’t deny the increasing importance of streaming.

“The reality everyone lives with is that the world is moving toward streaming, and you’ll see that most households have a mix of traditional television and streaming,” Schroeder said. “Our game packages reflect that reality.”

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