PONTIFICATING FROM THE SUNSHINE STATE – MAY 8
By Leo Haggerty

PUMP THE BRAKES

First of all, and I will start EVERY article with this paragraph, sports pales in comparison with what is occurring with the Coronavirus. Hopefully, the columns that I, and the rest of our correspondents, provide you is a momentary escape from the trials and tribulations that Americans, and the rest of the world’s population, are experiencing. The COVID-19 is not a video game that you can press reset and get a new life. This is real and dangerous so, above all, be prudent and stay safe.

Last night, with huge fanfare, the National Football League unveiled its 2020 regular season schedule.  The league plans to commence play on the normal start date which is the week after Labor Day in early September.

Just in case that is not feasible, the NFL has come up with alternatives.  Already built into the schedule are contingency plans in case the professional football season has to be delayed due to the pandemic.

So, pro football has a good news and bad news possibility.  The problem is, in my opinion, the latter is going to be what ultimately occurs.

Some of those plans will most likely become a reality come July when training camps are scheduled to open.  Why do I say that?  Let’s take a look at what the NFL has prepared to implement and you’ll see why I think this will come to fruition.

First, every game from Week 2 matches teams that have the same bye week later in the season.  That way, if Week 2 had to be postponed, all 16 games can be made up during those off weeks.

Second, there are no bye weeks or divisional contests in Weeks 3 and 4.  Also, all teams have a home and away game during that two-week span.

If those weeks had to be cancelled or relocated to the end of the current schedule, it would give some level of fairness and competitive balance.  Franchises would be dealing with a home game as well as an away contest during that time frame.

Finally, let me quote for you the words of the Commissioner himself.  When discussing the possibility of having to revamp the schedule due to COVID-19, Commissioner Roger Goodell emphasized, “In preparing to play the season as scheduled, we will continue to make our decisions based on the latest medical and public health advice, in compliance with government regulations, and with appropriate safety protocols to protect the health of our fans, players, club and league personnel and our communities.  We will be prepared to make adjustments as necessary, as we have during this off-season in safely and efficiently conducting key activities such as free agency, the virtual off-season program and the 2020 NFL draft.”

Doesn’t sound like a person too confident that no changes will be necessary, right?  Well, let me throw in a caveat that was a predominant factor in the scheduling process and that’s television.

There are separate contracts per network.  For example, ESPN pays an average of $1.9 billion per year for the rights to Monday Night Football and that expires after the 2021 season.

The agreements with the other three networks, CBS plus NBS along with Fox, don’t end until after the 2022 campaign.  Fox ponies up an average of $1.1 billion per year for its Sunday package plus an extra $550 million annually for the rights to Thursday Night Football.  CBS drops an average of $1.1 billion for the privilege to air Sunday afternoon NFL football tilts.  NBC agrees to pay an average of $950 million per season for Sunday Night Football.

The NFL Sunday Ticket and the NFL Mobile contracts both expire in 2022.  DirectTV pays an average of $1.1 billion and the Verizon deal is worth $550 million to the NFL respectively.

So, and I know you are all expecting this next paragraph, do the math.  That totals up to over $7 billion, and you’re reading that correctly, in revenue the NFL has tied up with the broadcast of its product.  Not chump change, for sure.

With that in mind, it was imperative that the NFL came up with viable alternatives in case the season cannot start normally.  As you can plainly see, from a monetary standpoint, any of those scenarios had to be broadcast friendly or it could be a financial disaster for the league.  There was way too much money at stake not to be extremely considerate of its media partners.

Look, I hope none of the Plan B situations that I outlined for you have to be implemented.  Still, do I think the NFL will have to adjust their schedule?  Absolutely but to what extent is that big unknown.

Things will probably change on a daily basis once July rolls around when some teams, especially the ones located in states where the coronavirus is the worst, cannot go to training camp. So, buckle up for the ultimate roller coaster ride as we see how this plays out.