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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The NFL’s Sports Calendar Takeover Continues. Next Up: Schedule Release

  • Detroit hosted a raucous three-day party for the NFL’s annual rookie selection ceremonies.
  • The growing fanfare around the league’s regular-season schedule release.
Detroit Free Press

The 2024 NFL draft is over, but the league still has a busy month ahead, as interest in professional football continues to dominate the sports discourse in more and more months each year.

It’s not quite the middle of spring, but the final weekend of April certainly belonged to the NFL. A record 775,00 fans are estimated to have attended draft festivities in downtown Detroit, surpassing the 600,000 people that took in the action in Nashville in 2019. On TV, the draft’s first round drew an average audience of 12.1 million viewers, up 6% from last year’s opening night. Complete viewership for all three days of the draft is not yet available.

Now, as rookies look to get acclimated with their new teams, the NFL’s power brokers will aim to keep fans thinking about football no matter what day or month it is.

Mark It Down

Next on the agenda for the NFL will be the upcoming season’s schedule release, which has started to become one of the league’s tentpole moments in recent years. Even though teams’ home and road opponents are set as soon as the previous season ends, the NFL has increasingly put effort into making the unveiling of game dates and TV windows a must-see event itself. Last year, NFL Network, ESPN2, and ESPN+ all had dedicated schedule release shows in prime time. ESPN2 drew 178,000 viewers, up 29% from 2022’s show, and NFL Network had an audience of 177,000, an increase of 27% over the prior year.

Teams have also worked hard to capitalize on the moment, rolling out elaborate schedule release videos on social media in an effort to stoke interest and sell season tickets. (Who could forget last year’s masterpiece from the Titans with fans on Broadway?)

In 2020, the NFL released that season’s schedule after the draft for the first time. That trend has continued, and the second Thursday in May has been the reveal date for the past two years. The league hasn’t officially announced its schedule release date yet, but it does have a dedicated landing page promoting just that on its website. The second Thursday next month will be May 9.

As the NFL looks to generate hype four months ahead of the regular season, it now has six teams with rookie quarterbacks selected in the first round to consider for major TV windows this fall. One of those teams, the Broncos, are a candidate to visit the Super Bowl LVIII champion Chiefs on opening night. The others could be options for new holiday windows like Black Friday and the upcoming Wednesday Christmas doubleheader.

Let’s Get Together

After the schedule release, NFL owners will convene in Nashville on May 20–22 for spring meetings. There, at least one future draft city could be announced, with no hosts known at this point beyond Green Bay next year. “We’ll continue to try to move this around and share it with other communities and bring the fans,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during an interview on ESPN last week. “But we always try to innovate something new every year.”

While the agenda for the meetings isn’t set yet, a future Super Bowl could be awarded to a host city, according to Front Office Sports contributor Dan Kaplan. In other league business, Goodell in March said there could potentially be progress made by May’s meeting on letting private equity entities invest in franchises. There likely won’t be a vote in May, per Kaplan. And another major outstanding issue is Tom Brady’s pending ownership stake in the Raiders.

Even More NFL?

While in Detroit last week, Goodell also talked about expanding the schedule to 18 games. “I’m not a fan of the preseason,” he said during an interview on The Pat McAfee Show. Going from three preseason and 17 regular seasons to two and 18 would be the preferred option for Goodell. “That’s not an unreasonable thing,” he said. And there’d be another benefit, too, around the Super Bowl moving back another week in February. “That ends up on Presidents’ Day weekend,” the commissioner noted. “Which is a three-day weekend, which makes the [game on] Sunday night, and then you have Monday off.”

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