17-game season may not happen in 2021

It had been presumed that the NFL would expand the regular season from 16 to 17 games in 2021. It’s reportedly not the sure thing it once was.

Ben Fischer of Sports Business Daily reports that the league’s owners are expected to debate expansion of the regular season when they meet next week. The expansion was allowed but not required by the CBA that the union ratified in March.

Fischer reports that the expansion of the regular season is “far less certain” than it was before the pandemic.

The NFL never provided clear timing as to the addition of a 17th game. Most assumed it would happen in 2021, but the ongoing broadcast-rights negotiations always were a factor in whether the extra games would arrive in 2021, 2022, or beyond.

Frankly, that seems to be the real question. The pandemic doesn’t matter; more games equal more money, and more opportunities to make more money. But how much more will the networks pay for the extra games?

The league surely will fold that price into the new deals, using the ability to extend rights packages well into the decade to get the best possible price for games that would be tacked onto the existing Monday Night Football package, which runs through 2021, and the all other deals, which run through 2022.

The league undoubtedly wants to increase its inventory. But it also undoubtedly wants top dollar for doing so. It wisely will try to capture that kind of return by tying it to the ability to enter into the next wave of TV contracts.