As most any NFL fans knows by now, the NFL has been pushing for a new format to their season. Instead of four preseason games and 16 regular season games, they're proposing two preseason games and 18 regular season games.
As NFL business guru Andrew Brandt of National Football Post explained to us recently, the NFL's motivations with the 18-game season are two-fold.
The NFL has made the "18-2" format a priority in these negotiations. It is important for them for two reasons:(1) it creates more revenue opportunities, creating two more meaningful games to sell to sponsors, event planners, suite and ticket holders and, most importantly, broadcast networks; and (2) it helps solve the longstanding problem of no interest in the preseason.
In short, it's about money and solving the fans criticisms of the preseason.
As for the players' side, they have a couple of concerns, Brandt explains. The most interesting point he made to me, though, is that he feels the 18-game season is a negotiable point for the union. In other words, going 18 games isn't a deal breaker for them.
The key is getting appropriate concessions in pension vesting, post-career health coverage, increased roster sizes, in-season IR lists, etc.
This is a negotiation after all. The players would give into an 18-game schedule depending on what they could get back. For players that want protection after they retire and changes to the offseason schedule, the 18-game season could be somewhat appealing.
But, as we've learned throughout this process, it's (almost) always about money. How will the owners show the players the money?
Many players ask me if it means that they will receive two more game checks. It is not that simple, but the overall revenue number will be bigger, meaning higher salary caps for each team meaning more negotiable dollars to spend.
So we know what the NFL's position is and why they want 18 games. (Brandt actually explains this in great detail in this story at NFP) And we've heard from the players and why they may or may not consider 18 games.
What about the fans? What do fans want?
Though we don't have a physical seat at the table, we are, in theory, the most important part of this process because we make the NFL's financial juggernaut go 'round.
First, as a fan myself, what drives me crazy about the 18-game schedule talk is the NFL assumes fans want 18 games.They hear fans say they don't like the preseason, and they've transitioned that to imply that they (fans) would want two extra regular season games instead of four preseason games.
Second, from my experience, what fans really don't like about the preseason is paying full cost for a watered-down product. No, that doesn't necessarily mean we want 18 games. We don't want to pay full price to see the third stringers battle it out in August. We will, though, watch those third-stringers, as the ridiculous popularity of the NFL has shown that we'll watch nearly anything on TV if it has the NFL's branding (lookin' at you, NFL Combine).
Third, I think fans don't like change, especially with a league as successful as the NFL. We love everything about the NFL right now. Why fix it if it's not broke?
If any of us have the right answer to these questions, we'd probably be sitting in federal mediator George Cohen's office right now working it out with both sides. Unfortunately, though, there isn't a right answer right now. Eventually, though, both sides will give a little, and a resolution will come.
If Brandt is right, the 2011 season will be safe from an 18-game season. He told me his sense is that any such proposal would begin in 2012.
As the possibility of a NFL lockout comes closer, check out Andrew Brandt at National Football Post for a unique view of the business side of the NFL.