National Football League owners voted Tuesday to approve an enhanced schedule that will bring the number of regular-season games to 17 per team starting this year. The long-discussed change is expected to bring additional revenue to the NFL, which finalized a new round of broadcast rights agreements earlier this month.
It's the first such change since the league expanded its regular season to 16 games in 1978, the NFL noted, but does not come as a surprise. Officials explained in a statement that the collective bargaining agreement signed by players and their union in March 2020 made it possible for the league to take such a step.
"This is a monumental moment in NFL history," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "The CBA with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans. And one of the benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world."
The newly-announced media rights agreements will commence with the 2023 season and are valued cumulatively at $113 billion over 11 years, as NPR has reported.
The media deal, combined with the extended schedule, are expected to provide a financial boost to the league, which saw decreased game attendance and a drop in revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The NFL and NFL Players Association agreed earlier this month to a reduced salary cap of $182.5 million per team for 2021, as ESPN reported, constituting an 8% decrease from the previous year.
"Though there was always support for making the move to 17 games sooner than later, a projected multibillion-dollar revenue shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic increased the urgency of the situation for both NFL owners and the players' union," NFL News reported back in December.
The union's share of all revenue was set to increase from 47 to 48 percent in 2021, it added, and the combined 17-game season and new media deal triggers a "media kicker" that increases players' share even more.
Under the revised schedule, each team will play three preseason games and 17 regular-season games, still with one bye week during which a team doesn't play. All 32 clubs will play internationally at least once every eight years beginning in 2022, with the league looking to schedule up to four neutral-site games per year in places including Canada, Europe, Mexico, South America and the United Kingdom.
NFL Kickoff Weekend will begin Sept. 9, and the regular season is slated to end on Jan. 9, 2022. The league said the official playing schedule will be announced later this spring.