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A Look Into the NFL’s First 17-Week Season

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Shortly after Tom Brady helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lift their first Lombardi Trophy back in February 2021, the NFL released a huge announcement. The league had expanded from its 16-week format to include an additional game, making the NFL season 17 weeks.

The announcement was a major shakeup for the league, which had stayed with its 16-game format since the league expanded from 14 games back in 1978. In reality, the push to expand the NFL is only one of many that have come under commissioner Roger Goodell. 

From the outside looking in, the NFL’s expansion might not seem like a big push. After all, considerations like fixture congestion have been a prime topic for leagues like the UK’s Premier League and North America’s MLB. In both cases, players face a busy schedule of matches—over 38 matches in the Premier League and over 160 in the MLB per season.

Most of this comes down to physicality. The NFL is one of the most demanding sports in the world, with a high number of injuries due to its rough-and-tumble nature. Additionally, NFL teams don’t play regional or intercontinental tournaments, as they’re the world’s only American football league (Canada’s CFL functions under Canadian football rules).

The 2021-22 season was the NFL’s first under a 17-week format. Here are a few key takeaways.

Expanding NFL Action

As mentioned directly above, the NFL is the world’s only professional American football league with a notable fanbase. One of Goodell’s prime goals in expanding the league is to build on international sporting interest. Already, Goodell has been a major proponent of the NFL’s International Series.

Each year, the International Series sees multiple regular-season games played in London and Mexico City. Soon, the NFL plans to expand to Munich, Germany. However, it’s difficult to shuttle players and teams off across the Atlantic or down to Mexico City with a limited number of games.

Last season’s 17-week format saw the Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons compete in London. Next year, teams will compete in Munich, Mexico City, and London—and the expanded schedule will provide crucial time for teams to travel and recover between games.

Creating New Revenue

Aside from helping promote the NFL’s international expansion, the 17-week format is also designed to boost the league’s revenue. Back in 2020-21, the NFL implemented a new salary cap. An added week of play directly boosts the money that each player takes home.

 Additionally, one condition for the NFL’s expansion was a new broadcasting deal. This broadcasting deal ties closely to the International Series; it dictates which teams will increase their visibility in which global regions, as well as outlining how new broadcasting profits will be allocated for each team.

In fact, the updated deal will see up to 48% of all media profits funneled directly to players. Viewed in this way, the added game acts as a catalyst for bigger broadcasting deals, more advertising sponsors, and a sweeter deal for all 32 teams in the league. In other words, more games equate to more profit in a broader financial sense.

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Added Fanfare

For the most part, the NFL’s decision to expand to a 17-week format is closely tied to Goodell’s push for international recognition and a boost in profitability. Still, that doesn’t mean fans aren’t happy for extra action... especially new fans.

Since the International Series was revamped in 2014, the NFL has managed to pick up a few (thousand) international fans. Domestically, fans have been pleased with the added action. Internationally, new fans are looking forward to the chance to catch their favorite team on the road in a place like Mexico, Germany, or the UK. 

The NFL also built out the added game with fanfare in mind. Teams compete in two conferences, the NFC and AFC; only the top team from each conference will battle it out in the championship game. To add a bit more drama to the league, the NFL’s added game is fought between AFC-NFC rivals, which rarely have the chance to compete due to the league’s schedule.