The NFL wants to reduce the preseason. But that would result in lost revenue. So it can’t happen without a way to make money elsewhere.
With the NFLPA showing no inclination to expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games, a more viable alternative will be to expand the postseason.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell said it could happen by 2015.
“First, we have to make the recommendation,” Goodell told reporters after Tuesday’s ownership meetings. “It would probably be the 2015 season because there are a lot of scheduling issues in the spring of next year. I don’t think we have everything resolved, including talking to the NFLPA, and making sure that is done the right way.”
It seems fairly clear that Goodell wants to do it.
“How do we continue to make sure the regular season games are incredibly important each week?” Goodell said. “But also how can we create more interest, and does expanding the postseason allow other teams to get into the dance with the potential of going on and winning the Super Bowl? That is a good thing for fans. It is a good thing competitively. What has happened is our league is so competitive right now. The games are so close that is realistic to think that a team can have a great second half, get into the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. We have seen it. We want to continue to keep all of it on the table. The Competition Committee is going to look at that. . . . The Competition Committee said that was one of the priorities they are going to be focusing on in 2014.”
The current plan seems to be adding a pair of playoff teams, meaning that only two would have a bye (the top seed in each conference) and 12 would play in the wild-card round. In addition to the current three-versus-six and four-versus-five format, the second seed would host the seventh seed in each conference.
That would put six total games on wild-card weekend.
“How do you schedule that?” Goodell said. “Do you have three games on Saturday and three games on Sunday? Do you have two on Friday, two on Saturday two on Sunday? Do you go into Monday? There are competitive consequences in there and television consequences. Again, if we do this, we want to do it right, so we have to evaluate all those issues and balance them.”
The challenge will be to schedule those extra games in a way that maximizes the revenue lost by a reduced preseason. The simplest solution would be to have a 1:00 p.m. ET, 4:30 p.m. ET, and 8:00 p.m. ET kickoff on Saturday and Sunday. But if there were a way to pull one of the early games into prime time on a Monday night, even more cash could be crammed into the register.
Actually, Monday night could be the key in every round of the postseason. By moving one game in the divisional round and one game in the conference championship round to Monday night, much more money could be made from the broadcast rights.
Given the popularity of prime-time football, we’re a little surprised the league hasn’t already found a way to get postseason football on Monday night. If the goal is to replace lost revenue from a shrunken preseason without growing the regular-season pie, that would be the obvious place to start.