HomeSportsNFL's controversial 'Thursday Night Football' flex scheduling decision reflects league's priorities

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 watchers, rejoice. NFL game attendees: Beware.

NFL team owners have approved a proposal that would allow Thursday night games to be moved to Sundays and vice versa.

The proposal would have some of the same restrictions that have already occurred on games flexed in and out of the Sunday night slot. Flex is allowed during only the last five qualifying weeks of the regular season – weeks 13 through 17, as “Thursday Night Football” is not on the week 18 schedule. No more than two games may be flexed per season. And no team can be flexed in or out of Thursday’s slot more than once.

Nevertheless, the proposal was controversial.

NFL team owners, including John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, blasted a version of the proposal in March. They were two of eight owners to vote against the motion on Monday.

Top concern: What about fans scheduling games for … only to have the game moved three days earlier or later?

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

“We have Week 18 games where all games are listed as ‘TBD’ and could go either Saturday afternoon or Sunday,” Schroeder said. “And we have wild-card, divisional and playoff games that can be scheduled on short notice. So I don’t want fans to think that we’re not going to be sensitive to that and we’re not going to do our best to communicate as fully and as quickly as possible.

On the decision to allow flex scheduling for Thursday night games, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, pictured in the 2021 game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, said: “Every owner in that room lives and breathes sensitivity to his fans. And he knows how important each one of them is. But only 7 percent of our fans have ever been inside a stadium — 7 percent, And so we have a lot of fans, a huge following of fans, and that’s good for them.” (Photo by David Ullit/Getty Images)

Does Thursday Night Flex Help or Hurt Fans?

The timeline of that communication was a sticking point for some team owners. In March, the vote proved two short of the 24 needed to approve it. The advance notice requirement has been changed from at least 15 days to 28 to affected club owners.

In league meetings, team owners and presidents alike argued that fans were far more impressed by televised offerings than in-game experiences.

Thus they see it as a fan-friendly decision.

“Very important thing for everybody in that room,” said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. “Every owner in that room lives and breathes sensitivity towards his fans. And he knows how important each one of them is.

“But only 7 percent of our fans have ever been inside a stadium — 7 percent, And so we have a lot of fans, a huge following of fans, and it’s good for them.

They, too, will heavily influence scheduling decisions, with league broadcast deals and viewership metrics heavily affecting the league’s bottom line.

“We’re also trying to figure out, on the other hand, how do we make sure we’re getting the right games in the right window,” Schroeder said. “It’s something that we’re always going to weigh heavily and make a decision whenever we flex too seriously.

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

Thousands of fans attending the games will face travel complications. For that reason, and other operational considerations, Schroeder says the bar for schedule changes will be higher than in flex scenarios for Sunday and Monday.

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

Is the new frontier here?

With a maximum of two incidents per year, the relative impact of the move may prove less substantial than the public outcry.

Still, the message it sends screams louder: The philosophy driving this decision prioritizes the broadcast product over the stadium product. Is the NFL also, perhaps, prioritizing streaming ties over its traditional television partnerships?

First, the league announced last week that it would exclusively live stream playoff games after this season. Peacock, the streaming arm of NBC, will air a prime-time Saturday wild-card game.

Now, a sign to make sure “Thursday Night Football” is streaming on Amazon.

Schroeder said the league would “very much honor our arrangements and commitments to CBS and Fox.”

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

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



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