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A Longer NFL Season?

2008 August 28
by Phil Miller

From the Washington Post (via DOL):

Sentiment among NFL leaders to reduce the preseason to two or three games per team and lengthen the regular season to 17 or 18 games, up from the current 16, is growing, and it seems generally accepted that such an adjustment likely will be made within the next few years.

“I think it would be a positive,” New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said this week, “and I do think it will happen.”

…More regular season games would mean more revenue in television rights fees, which are worth about $3.7 billion per season in the current deals with NBC, Fox, CBS, ESPN and DirecTV.

“The players’ view can be really simple: If I get paid for two extra games, I’ll play two more games,” former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Randy Cross said. “The fans’ view is: More of the real stuff is better. The realistic view is: It’s a way to generate more revenues.”

Players aren’t paid during the preseason; instead, they’re paid in 17 installments during the regular season. The owners make big money by charging regular season ticket prices for preseason games, but still could come out ahead if the additional regular season games boost TV rights fees considerably.

The drawbacks to adding games would be diluting the product, and limiting chances for younger players. The small number of regular season games makes each weekend vitally important. Adding too many games could detract from that, but the owners don’t seem to fear they’re nearing that point yet.

Fewer preseason games, however, would mean fewer opportunities for unheralded young players to prove they deserve roster spots. Kraft called that his only concern, and Cross said it would be particularly detrimental to the development of young quarterbacks. He pointed out that the league already shut down its developmental league for young players in Europe.

Consider a two-team league with a large market team and a small market team. If the season is only one game long, then that game is very important and randomness is a bigger part of the outcome of the game than if the season goes longer. In other words, the more games teams play, the more likely the cream will rise to the top.

So if a small-market large-market differential between teams arises over time, the schedule change makes playoff appearances by the large market teams more likely (one of the points that Whitney made in his 1988 Economic Inquiry paper). Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Cross-posted at Market Power

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