More NFL flex scheduling could be on the way
The NFL has asked teams for feedback on the prospect of radically expanding flex scheduling, including the possibility of moving games from Sunday to Monday in mid-season, sources said.
Before the holidays, league executives posed an open-ended question to teams: How much flexing could they handle? How much advance notice would teams need if broadcasters wanted to switch a Sunday afternoon game to “Monday Night Football?” What if every week of the season were opened to flexing?
The NFL did not propose a specific plan.
Any flex scheduling changes would not take effect until new media rights deals kick in, starting with the 2023 season. Even though the NFL has not started formal negotiations with any networks, ESPN has let it be known that it wants to incorporate flexible scheduling as part of a new “Monday Night Football” deal.
ESPN wants to be able to flex out of late-season games that carry no postseason implications, like the Dec. 24, 2018, matchup between the 6-8 Denver Broncos and the 3-11 Oakland Raiders, or the Week 10 matchup earlier that season between the 1-7 New York Giants and the 2-7 San Francisco 49ers.
As an added enticement, ESPN has told the NFL that it would put “Monday Night Football” back on ABC if it ends up with the rights. ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” deal ends after the 2021 season, one season before the league’s other media rights packages expire.
It’s not just ESPN, though. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” likely wants more options. With some exceptions, the NFL typically announces its flex games for Sunday nights 12 days before kickoff, starting in Week 5. NBC likely wants that time frame to be moved up. The NFL can flex only two games into Sunday night between weeks 5 and 10, another point that NBC likely wants to be relaxed.
Most clubs’ concerns have centered around road trip logistics and expenses, particularly with any potential flex involving “Monday Night Football.” Flights and hotel rooms would have to be booked for an extra day to account for the unknown, or altered at the last minute, which could become exorbitant.
“You can do it in a week if it has to be done, but there’s a number associated with that,” said one team executive.
Reaction varied widely. Small-market clubs eager for national exposure said they might value the prime-time window over the cost of changing. Western teams worry about the time zone implications. The teams delivered no consensus to the league.
Teams with fewer season-ticket holders would be less inclined toward allowing more night games than budgeted for, since single-game sales typically decrease for night games.
The league is mindful of the potential backlash from ticketholders who could see their personal schedules thrown for a loop if a scheduled game changes from Sunday to Monday or vice versa.