If the NFL Takes Over Saturday Nights, It Will Never Give It Back

Roger Goodell
Roger Goodell saying wazzup. | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Since big-money deals around TV contracts started ruling the way sports schedules were constructed, there has always been an unspoken agreement between the NFL and college football that neither would impinge too closely on the other. If we're being honest, it was the NFL that allowed college football to retain its day to shine once a week when the league decided Thursday night would be fine to expand its schedule. NFL on Saturday was reserved for the playoffs after the college football season was completed and everyone was hunky-dory with that arrangement.

Now, all bets are off. The college football season seems to be on the brink of being canceled and/or postponed. That leaves a big hole in America's football-loving heart on Saturday that the NFL seems more than willing to fill. According to Adam Schefter, and as previously written about on The Big Lead, the NFL's TV schedule for the 2020 season could look vastly different than we've seen before and, yes, that means Saturday NFL regular-season games are on the table for discussion too.

The NFL considered Saturday night football previously when it discussed expanding the days it scheduled games around 2004-2005. Thursday night ultimately won because the competition was zero, as opposed to Saturday when eyes would be pulled toward different pigskins. But now the NFL could have an open dancefloor to show off its product. Once it's gotten a taste of games being played four days a week, I don't see the NFL going back.

We all know money rules sports nowadays. If that wasn't evident before coronavirus, it couldn't be more obvious now. Sports leagues went out of their way to resume operations as soon as possible in the face of a pandemic. Money was the root of that decision-making process. As the NFL considers future streams of income, now would be the perfect time for them to add another TV slot for broadcast networks to bid on. And we're not talking about a hundred million dollars here. This could be a multi-billion-dollar deal.

The rights for NFL broadcasts come up at the end of this season and next. There are reports that the NFL will raise renewal rates for all of its broadcasting packages -- Thursday night, Sunday afternoon, Sunday night, and Monday night. Rates could double, according to the same sources, from $1 billion to $2 billion for Sunday afternoon packages and $2 billion to $3 billion for Monday night. If the NFL has a successful Saturday night showing this year, they could theoretically get something in the $2 billion range for a long-term broadcast partnership there. And guess what? Broadcasters and streaming services would line up for the opportunity because the NFL still rules ratings, which equates to advertising dollars, which is the lifeblood for media organizations.

While competing against college football for viewership on Saturday night when marquee games are being played seems stupid, that amount of money for a league looking for new streams of revenue does not. Unlike college football, the NFL is a business (well, college football is too, just not as good of one). At the end of the day, that business needs to increase profits year-over-year. It's why the NFL is expanding operations in places like England, Mexico City, and Canada. Franchise expansion equals new revenue opportunities. The same is true of scheduling expansion.

Some might argue the ratings will be lower for the NFL going up against college football. To that I say it doesn't matter what day the NFL plays. People tune in. Will it be as much as primetime on Sunday? Probably not. But they will still be able to command top dollar in a rights deal for Saturday night football. Equally important, the NFL will become relevant on the one fall day of the week it really wasn't king previously. If there's one thing the NFL likes as much as money, it's exposure.

If college football isn't played this fall and the NFL gets a taste for four days of game action this season, why would it go back? Having games on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday not only increases its relevance, but it also increases its revenue. It doesn't take a genius to realize those are the two things the NFL covets more than anything else. Once the NFL has both in its grasp it won't let it go for anyone. Unspoken agreements be damned.