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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Loophole Located: NFL Always Finding New Spots on the Calendar

  • Scheduled game in Brazil will be played Fri., Sept. 6, opening another game window.
  • League works around components of the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961.
Philadelphia Eagles
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL continues to show unprecedented creativity in finding new dates to play games, further expanding the league’s calendar.

After the 2023 season featured the establishment of Black Friday as a new day on the league calendar, a bulked-up Christmas lineup to great ratings success, and even an unintentional shift of a playoff game to the afternoon of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the opening week of the ’24 season will include the NFL’s first regular-season game in Brazil on Friday, Sept. 6, involving the Philadelphia Eagles (as the designated team).

The league’s intent to play in Brazil had been previously announced, and the South American trip represents another step in the NFL’s growing international ambitions. But the inclusion of the Eagles and specific placement of the game on a Friday—a day after the season-opening game involving the Super Bowl LVIII winner—is new.

“It’s an unusual approach, and different than we’ve ever done,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell during his Super Bowl state-of-the-league press conference. “We think this is giving us an ability to access more fans not just in [the U.S.], but on a global basis.”

The NFL has traditionally avoided playing on Fridays and Saturdays during the high school and college football regular seasons, in keeping with terms of the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961. That long-standing rule explains why Saturday NFL games do not appear on the schedule until mid-December each year, and the Black Friday game also worked around the statute by starting at 3 p.m., ahead of a prohibition of airing “all or a substantial part” of pro football games on Fridays after 6 p.m.

The applicable window of that federal act, however, begins with the second Friday of September each year, extending to the second Saturday in December. The Brazil game is situated in front of that, and now it sets up a blockbuster opening week of the upcoming NFL season that will include prime-time games on Sept. 5, 6, 8, and 9. Aiding the effort is the early placement of Labor Day, falling on Sept. 2 this year, which means the NFL’s opening week and the first Friday of September will coincide for the first time since 2019.

The NFL’s other designated teams for international games in 2024 include the Carolina Panthers in Germany, as well as the Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Minnesota Vikings in England. Their opponents for those games, similar to the Eagles’ foe in Brazil, will be released with the full NFL schedule in the spring. 

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