With more than four years to go under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, it’s widely believed that management will soon pursue in earnest talks on an extension. Labor is bracing for the revival of a request that has been looming quietly for the last few years.
The NFLPA expects the league to make a renewed push for 18 regular-season games, PFT learned earlier this month. Once a fairly regular talking point from Commissioner Roger Goodell, who had developed a habit of publicly trashing the quality of preseason play in an effort to nudge the 20-game format from 16-and-4 to 18-and-2, Goodell hasn’t mentioned the subject in a while. He last addressed the subject in May 2013, telling reporters that “all options are on the table,” including the addition of regular-season games and the expansion of the playoffs.
Neither has occurred in large part because the players don’t want more football. The ongoing TV ratings slide suggests fans don’t want more football, either. But some believe that the drop in ratings will actually make the NFL more intent on growing the inventory of games.
With 256 current regular-season contests drawing fewer viewers, one very simple way to pad the total numbers will be to add another 32 games, which would carry with it two more weekends of prime-time action. Even if there are fewer total viewers or the same number of viewers watching less football (I still can’t figure out which one is worse), giving them more football increases the chances that any given prime-time game will be more compelling, more competitive, more exciting, and generally less Jaguars-Titany.
Ultimately, it won’t happen unless the union agrees. Although the official position for years has been one of total disinterest and at times outright refusal, the NFLPA realizes that everything is negotiable. With, for example, larger rosters, a bigger piece of the pie to pay all players, and maybe a few other concessions (neutral arbitration, anyone?), the players could be willing to accept the terms.
And while the expiration of the current labor agreement remains well into the future, this phenomenon of shrinking ratings will create a quiet sense or urgency for the league to make any and all adjustments necessary either to reverse the trend or to adjust to what may be a new reality. That’s something the NFL likely won’t want to wait four years to do.