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NFL Schedule Making 101: What’s Best for TV vs. What’s Best for Clubs

There’s a reason why the architects of the NFL schedule work in the league’s broadcasting department.

“The overriding goal of the scheduling process is to make as good a television schedule as possible,” explained NFL VP of Broadcast Planning Mike North during last week’s 33rd Team Call.

“Now, that’s not to say we go all the way to the extreme. You have to balance the competitive impact on our clubs. You can make a ‘perfect television schedule’ with nothing but Cowboys and Packers and Steelers and Patriots in prime time every week of the year, versus the alternative, which is give every club exactly what they want.”

North pointed out that most every team has the same set of requests going into the process:

  • We want to open at home.
  • We want to close at home.
  • We want a midseason bye.
  • We don’t want to play in Miami in September, when it’s 110 degrees.
  • We don’t want to play in Lambeau in December, when it’s negative-3 degrees.

“That’s obviously not going to be our best television schedule if we cater too much to the clubs,” said North. “So the whole dance here is to strike the balance, thread the needle, and really kind of balance as close to optimal as we can get with our television schedule without imparting too much pain on our clubs.”

The Aaron Rodgers saga highlighted an interesting challenge the schedule makers face from time to time. The news of Rodgers’ trade demands came out just as the 2021 schedule was to be announced. The Packers have five prime-time games this season.

“There’s a few guys in the league that we would have to really stop and start over again if he changed teams or retired,” said North. “Aaron Rodgers is one of them.”

North said the league was in a similar predicament last year when they didn’t know where Tom Brady would land.

“Tom Brady started his free agency tour and I don’t think Tampa Bay was at the top of most people’s list,” he said. “On March 12, Tampa Bay was heading for one, maybe, prime-time game. March 13, they sign TB12, and the next thing you know they’re on prime time five times. So there are guys that move the needle that much, that our television partners react to that much.”

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