PHOENIX — Just moments before Roger Goodell strode to the lectern here for his NFL owners meeting-closing news conference, Giants owner John Mara set the agenda for him.
Mara, on late Tuesday afternoon, spoke out passionately against a tabled proposal that would allow the league to flex games in and out of Thursday Night Football.
NFL Owners Meeting: Roger Goodell News Conference
Mara’s charged comments, as recorded by The Athletic, were as follows:
“People have gotten used to going from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night. It doesn’t mean they like it. But this year, we could be flexed to Monday night, which I think is really inconsiderate to our [customers]. To flex the games back to Thursday night, to me, is just abusive. I am adamantly opposed to it. Fortunately, it didn’t get enough votes, but they will probably revisit it in May.”
Mara gave voice to thoughts shared by many in and around the league, including some broadcast partners, who believe that the product — which is already diminished on Thursday nights due to lack of prep time — will get even worse.
One former player-turned-broadcaster pointed out this week that teams begin preparing for their short week more than a month in advance. If the proposal passes, teams might have just two weeks to get ready for the significant disruption to their schedule.
What’s more, it’s possible that teams will have to deal with that unexpected inconvenience not once but twice in a football season. On Tuesday, the NFL announced that teams could be forced to play on a short week twice in one regular season.
Currently, every team plays at least once on Thursday nights. But under this new system, that’s no longer a guarantee. So, why is the NFL even considering this?
Because Amazon agreed to pay $1 billion a year for the next decade to stream Thursday night games, and a bunch of matchups in 2022 stunk.
It’s understandable that the league wants the best teams to play on its biggest stages, but the logistics for fans that would come with switching a game from Sunday to Thursday are massive.
One could even say they’re “abusive.”
Choosing to go ahead with a flex plan even in the face of such fan disservice would give the impression that the NFL is putting TV rights holders ahead of their fans.
“There isn’t anybody in [NFL organizations] that doesn’t put our fans first,” Goodell responded. “… We are very careful at it, and we will look at all of the impacts of it.”
Goodell went on to point out that there have been only, on average, “a flex and a half per year” since the league began moving underperforming teams out of Sunday Night Football midseason.
But that average will likely increase in 2023 when, for the first time, Monday Night Football games can be flexed. Moving the game to another day impacts fans the most who have flight and hotel arrangements.
Players already don’t love the current Thursday night system, and — if Patrick Mahomes’ face-slapping quote tweet to news of teams potentially having to play two in one year is any indication — won’t love the changes.
“I don’t think we are putting Amazon over players’ interest,” Goodell said before adding that there’s data “that’s very clear” showing the injury rate on Thursday night is no higher than games on other days.
Even if you concede the health and safety point, there’s no disputing that changing the day of the game for any reason beyond weather or some sort of emergency puts an artificial burden on the paying customer.
But it’s a burden that owners might ultimately be OK with. Mara said the vote to flex “was close” to passing, and he’s worried that when membership gathers again in a couple of months, the votes will be there to enact.
“People make plans to go to these games weeks and months in advance,” he added. “And 15 days ahead of time to say, ‘Sorry, folks, that game you were planning on taking your kids to Sunday at one o’clock, it’s now gonna be Thursday night.’ What are we thinking about?”
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