NFL Players Sign Off on Agreement to Expand Season to 17 Games

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New collective bargaining agreement also increases the playoff field to 14 teams and paves the way for TV rights negotiations to begin.

The National Football League and the NFL Players Association have agreed to what commissioner Roger Goodell is calling a “transformative” new collective bargaining agreement that will expand the league’s regular season to 17 games and change the league’s playoff format. The vote by the players was a close one, with 1,019 votes in favor to 959 votes opposed.

Under the new CBA, each conference will send seven teams to the postseason (up from the current six), with six games to take place during the Wild Card weekend, three on Saturday, and three on Sunday. Only one team would receive a playoff bye week, down from the current two.

The NFL’s preseason will be shortened to three games under the new agreement.

"We are pleased that the players have voted to ratify the proposed new CBA, which will provide substantial benefits to all current and retired players, increase jobs, ensure continued progress on player safety, and give our fans more and better football," Goodell said in a statement.

"We understand and know that players have been split on this deal, including members of our EC," the NFL Players Association executive committee said in a statement. "Going forward, it is our duty to lead, however we may feel as individuals, to bring our men together and to continue to represent the interests of our entire membership."

With the CBA finalized and agreed to by the owners, the league and the players, TV rights negotiations can now begin in earnest, though the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will almost certainly delay the proceedings.

The new rights deals should set records, helped along by the extra regular season and postseason games provided for in the agreement.

With the NFL far and away the most popular programming on television — averaging 16.5 million viewers per game last season across all networks — the stakes are high for the interested parties. 

Current rights holders NBC, ViacomCBS, Fox and ESPN are all interested in retaining or even expanding their deals with the league, with reports suggesting that Disney could simulcast Monday Night Football on ABC, or that it and NBCUniversal could pursue a Sunday afternoon package currently held by Fox or CBS.

ABC could also regain rights to the Super Bowl, which it last broadcast in 2006. The Super Bowl remains the single biggest TV event in the country, with Super Bowl LIV on Fox last month averaging just under 100 million viewers (more than 113 million viewers when out-of-home viewership was factored in, per Fox Sports).

Then there are tech giants like Google and Amazon, which may be interested in submitting bids as well. Amazon currently streams Thursday Night Football games, which air on Fox.