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Monday, July 15, 2024

NFL’s Calendar Takeover Continues With Expanded ‘Hard Knocks’ Series

  • ‘Hard Knocks: Offseason With the New York Giants’ debuts Tuesday night.
  • This year, three versions of the show will follow six different teams.
Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

NFL teams don’t report to training camps for several more weeks, but Hard Knocks will make its 2024 season debut Tuesday night. The long-running docuseries mostly associated with the preseason is getting started early this summer, as the HBO and NFL Films franchise looks to fight off viewer fatigue and some resistance from within league circles by kicking off its most ambitious year yet.

After adding a spinoff version of the show during the season in 2021, Hard Knocks is expanding yet again with an offseason edition that will run for the next five weeks before the traditional training camp show begins. Here’s what Hard Knocks will look like for the entire ’24 NFL season:

  • Offseason: Giants, July 2–30 (five episodes)
  • Training Camp: Bears, Aug. 6 to Sept. 3 (five episodes)
  • In Season: AFC North, Dec. 3 into postseason (seven episodes minimum)

Not only will Hard Knocks air more episodes than it ever has in one season (at least 17), it will also feature the most teams (six). Last year, the Dolphins’ wild card playoff game against the Chiefs gave the series its first episode involving a playoff matchup. More postseason Hard Knocks is guaranteed this year with the AFC North winner, and potentially more teams should the division earn any playoff berths.

The addition of an offseason version of Hard Knocks adds to the NFL’s continued takeover of the sports calendar, following moves to boost up tentpole moments like the combine, draft, and schedule release.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Last summer, HBO said the traditional training camp version of Hard Knocks saw its best viewership in 13 years as it averaged 4.4 million viewers per episode following the Jets. That’s factoring in live viewing and streaming on Max after the original episode run. But those audience numbers mark a huge boost from the show’s low point in 2020. 

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there were no preseason games—a key portion of each training camp episode—and Hard Knocks averaged just 243,000 viewers each week. Even before that, the once-innovative nature of Hard Knocks was no longer quite as relevant due to increased content offerings put out by teams themselves. 

Now, as the NFL continues to evolve Hard Knocks, team owners approved changes this past spring around who could be required to participate in the series if there were no volunteers. The Bears had famously resisted doing the show in years past, before agreeing to be this summer’s team. Moving forward, franchises can no longer turn down Hard Knocks if they made the playoffs in the prior two seasons. However, teams with first-year head coaches remain immune, if they choose to be.

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