Amazon has already pocketed one of the marquee games of 2023, with the Dolphins and Jets squaring off on Black Friday. On Thursday night, we’ll find out more about the entirety of the Amazon Thursday night schedule.
It will say plenty, both about the 2023 season and beyond.
Although the Commissioner failed to twist enough arms to get the 24 votes to allow late-season flexing of Thursday night games, Roger Goodell actually emerged from the league meetings with something better — the ability to schedule teams for a pair of Sunday-Thursday games per year, starting this year.
Tomorrow night, I’m going straight to the Thursday night schedule to see how many big-ticket teams that new power puts twice on Amazon. Chiefs, Jets, Cowboys. Bengals, Bills, Eagles. 49ers, Steelers, Dolphins. Ravens, Patriots, Packers.
And while the NFL has done the mental gymnastics regarding the physical consequences of short-week football by concluding that a flat in-game injury rate between normal-rest and short-week games makes it OK (it doesn’t), everything about playing on Sunday and then on Thursday creates challenges of rest, recovery, preparation, game-planning, etc.
The schedule could reveal that all of the best and/or most attractive teams will be required to do it twice, and that all of the worst and/or least attractive teams won’t have to do it at all. Given the razor-thin margins that determine the outcome of games and in turn playoff positioning and in turn seasons, how does this new ability to tap teams on the shoulder for short-week football zero or one or two times, how does that not create a potentially real competitive impact on the overall season?
It’s actually conducive to parity. It makes it harder for the good teams, easier for the bad teams. But is it fair?
Some devices (e.g., portions of the scheduling formula and draft position) specifically are used to achieve competitive equity. This one isn’t about making the road harder for the haves and easier for the have-nots. It’s about getting more people to pivot to streaming now, boosting audience size in a way that lays the proper foundation for the next wave of broadcast deals, which will arrive before the end of the decade if the league opts out of the new contracts that kick in this season.
That’s really why the Thursday night games are getting this unprecedented new scheduling quirk. It’s not a bouquet for Jeff Bezos. By helping get more people to watch football on a streaming platform, the NFL helps itself get more money from Amazon and/or other streamers in the not-too-distant future, as more cords are cut and as more people use apps and routers, not rabbits ears or cables.