18-game NFL season could mean a new TV partner, permanent date for Super Bowl
The National Football League's push for to extend the regular season to 18 games -- from its current schedule of 16 -- could have a dramatic effect not just on the players and fans, but also on the television industry.
Although an 18-game season is not a lock, it seems likely to happen, perhaps as early as 2012. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league intends to officially propose extending the season by two games in the near future. While the NFL Players Union will probably oppose it, owners will push hard for a longer season because of the revenue it could bring them.
Clearly, a longer season would give the NFL some juice to try to get the networks to pay more for rights. The NFL's current deals with CBS, NBC, ESPN and Fox are set to expire in 2014. The league takes in about $3.1 billion annually for those deals, another $1 billion annually from DirecTV for the Sunday Ticket package and $400 million a year from its own NFL Network.
With a longer season, the league could even consider carving out yet another television package of games. Currently, the NFL Network carries eight games in the second half of the season on Thursday and Saturday nights. The NFL could add one game to that package and create another nine-game package for games in the first half of the season that it could sell to itself or to another cable or broadcast network.
As for whether an 18-game season would mean an earlier start or later finish: If recent history is any guide, the NFL wants to take over February. The Super Bowl always used to be played in mid- to late January, but over the last 10 years, the game has mostly taken place in February. Adding two regular-season games could push the Super Bowl into mid-February and give the NFL a chance to make the three-day Presidents' Day weekend a permanent home for its biggest event. No doubt there are plenty of football fans who overdo it on Super Bowl Sunday and wouldn't mind having Monday off.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Credit: Keith Srakocic/Associated Press.