In a story by Sports Business Journal, the NFL inquired with teams how they felt if the league was to use flex scheduling for Monday Night Football. With ESPN’s contract running through the 2021 season, one provision they would like moving forward is the opportunity for flex scheduling for Monday night games. If so, ESPN would move Monday Night Football to ABC. But is flexing games to Monday night even a possibility?
First of all, it is not an ideal situation for teams. With precise schedules for when teams arrive and depart, hotel reservations, and everything else that goes into travel, changing the day of a game is not an easy task. It would not just be the teams who got moved to Monday Night Football, but also the teams that lost a day of preparation with their game being moved to Sunday.
Lost in the entire discussion is the heartbeat of the NFL: The fans. With the majority of fans watching the games on television, it probably does not make a huge difference whether or not their team is playing on Sunday or Monday. If fans are following an out-of-market team, moving to a national game is great news. On the flip-side, if their game from the national spotlight moves back to a game buried on CBS or FOX a day prior, it might be one less chance for fans to see their favorite team.
All this is wonderful, but as a season ticket holder to the Steelers, I can say flex scheduling is awful on Sunday night, let alone Monday. In Week 15 of this past season, it was the second time a game I was planning to attend was flexed into prime time. Living out of the area, this is about the worst case scenario when planning to attend a game.
My story is bad enough, but I think of the Steelers’ fan in Louisiana who is finally taking a trip to the Steel City to watch their beloved Steelers play at Heinz Field. After securing tickets, flights, and hotel reservations, they find out a couple weeks in advance that everything they had planned is thrown out the window because the game has been changed to a different day. What can be changed and what is set in stone? Is there an issue with the flight? How is their hotel reservation going to pan out? Will their work schedule allow them to miss more time since the game has now dipped into the work week? And if they could get refunded on everything else, what are they going to do with the tickets? Fans are not lining up for prime time games, so chances are they would have to swallow the price or take a huge hit just to move the tickets at all.
When the game against the Buffalo Bills was moved to Sunday night, it went from a game I was excited to attend to one I was ready to sell my tickets. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get anywhere close to a decent price for the game so I still attended. Walking in my front door at 5 AM was not something I signed up for when I decided to attend one more game for the season. I can’t imagine how I would handle it if, not only the time, but the day was also swapped out.
As we all know, the NFL is about the almighty dollar. Anything they can do to make more money is going to happen. So does the league even care if they’re screwing over fans who go to the stadium? Probably not. Their biggest money is in television. And if the TV executives are happy and they are selling more advertisements and bringing in more money, the NFL would probably play in front of empty stadiums.
But how far will the NFL push fans without a significant push back? Would this be enough for fans to stop going to the stadium at all? Will season-ticket owners become disgruntled because nobody wants to take their unused tickets? Will any of this matter as long as the TV dollars continue to flow?
Luckily, for this particular issue, teams will probably fight this tooth and nail as it will be a major inconvenience on their schedules. But, as usual, the everyday fan who works hard and does their best to spend their money wisely will be overlooked again as the cost of attending a game continues to rise. The last thing fans need is a total upheaval in their schedule just because the NFL did a lousy job of predicting which matchups will be relevant late in the season.