We live in an age where TV dictates the sporting calendars to a certain extent. Ahead of every NFL season, the computer works out a fixture schedule, and teams know who they will be playing from the first game through to the end of the regular campaign.
But this isn’t a certain scenario. The NFL can decide to switch certain ties within a game week under a concept known as flex scheduling.
Flex Scheduling Explained
The NFL has a global following and its focal point is in the USA. TV viewing figures for the bigger games are huge, while associated industries feed off those top matches. Advertising revenue rises for a live broadcast, while a greater range of nfl odds are supplied via the sportsbooks.
In short, the NFL needs to maximise the revenue potential when those big games come around. Viewing figures tend to be higher on a Thursday night as opposed to a Sunday and this is where flex scheduling comes in.
If the fixture schedule has listed a top, important game for Sunday, the league has the ability to switch it and replace a match that was initially listed for Thursday. This is flex scheduling in action and, while it may make economic sense, it’s a concept that isn’t widely supported.
As soon as that fixture calendar is released for the regular campaign, fans of NFL teams will start to make plans. Some will have season tickets for every home game, while others will attend when their own schedules allow.
In certain cases, supporters will travel from other parts of the world to see their favorite team in action. Once the home matches have been underlined, it’s time to make an itinerary for some road trips.
Fans plan holidays around NFL matches and many will take time away from work. All this planning has the potential to be ruined by the flex scheduling. Games can be switched at relatively short notice and that’s why the system is met with a degree of criticism.
The New Structure
Ahead of the 2023 regular season, the NFL has made some alterations to their flex scheduling structure. The changes that have been made will specifically affect game weeks 13 to 17. This means that more late season games will be subject to a switch than before.
The move comes amidst a number of rule changes that were announced by the NFL in May. In terms of the scheduling and the movement of games, there is some good news with a smaller window for alterations.
Additionally, the league must give a 28 day notice period of their intention to move a Sunday match to a Thursday night. The moves suggest that the NFL is aware of the potential problems that the flex causes, and that they have some sympathy for those who have to change their plans.
Opinion is split over the move, and many are still frustrated.
What it Means for Fans
There is a new system in place for 2023, but fans may face the same problems as before. There are some benefits, however, and supporters can now make travel plans for week 18 in the knowledge that nothing is set to change.
At other times of the regular season, the possibility of flex scheduling remains. While we need to wait to see which games are affected, there is a fear that weeks 13 through to 17 could be chaotic in terms of widespread fixture changes.
The 28-day notice period is also intended to find a compromise. Those who have had their travel plans affected have four weeks in which to rearrange or cancel. Supporters will, however, have to rely on transport companies and hotels to be flexible in terms of those amended dates. Refunds will be sought and it’s hoped that anyone affected will be fully reimbursed.
While flex scheduling will always have its critics, it’s easy to see why the system is in place. Whether the fans like it or not, the TV companies pump so much money into the sport, that they demand a say in scheduling in return.
The effect may disrupt plans, but it also means that the midweek games hold greater relevance at a time when more viewers may be tuning in. It’s a concept that we see repeated all around the world. Across the Atlantic in the UK, the English Premier League is subject to a similar concept.
While the system has no official name, the main live broadcaster will always tinker with the fixture calendar, as they cherry-pick the best games. A Saturday 3pm kick off can suddenly be switched to Sunday lunchtime or even Monday night.
In short, while it’s not always welcomed, flex scheduling is a necessary phenomenon in order to put the top NFL games in front of the biggest possible audience.