The current CBA proposal that the NFL Players Association will consider later today addresses plenty of topics. Here’s one topic it doesn’t address: When the regular season schedule would expand from 16 to 17 games.
That’s not just a negotiating point, even though the league would prefer to start sooner and the players would like to start later. The league, we’re told, wants maximum flexibility from the CBA in order to best position the upcoming TV negotiations.
Even then, there’s a belief in some circles that adding a 17th game by 2021 (the NFL’s preferred start date) will be a challenge, logistically. The union, for example, has yet to receive anything from the league regarding how the 17th game would work — where it would be played (neutral site or ninth home game) and/or who the opponent for a 17th game would be.
There’s another key point as it relates to 17 games. While this isn’t mentioned in the summary distributed by the union, the NFL can’t expand the regular season to 17 games until a revenue target for that extra game is hit. Which means that the NFL will need to sell the extra game at the right price, or the extra game can’t be played.
This tweak to the potential expansion of the regular season opens the door, as a practical matter, to the league breaking out the extra 16 games that come from a 17th game into a package separate and apart from the current menu of broadcast-rights contracts, with those 16 games going to, for example, Amazon or YouTube or some other streaming platform that possibly would pay a premium for the ability to claim exclusive access to the extra games above the current 256.
Regardless, the omission of a year in which 17 games would start isn’t accidental or a point for further negotiation between league and union. The NFL wants to keep it vague and flexible for now, and if the NFLPA takes the current deal it will be agreeing to the possibility that 17 games will be played for the first time in 2021, 2022, or 2023.