NFL playing on Black Friday

The NFL schedule for 2023-24 will have a Jets-Dolphins game at 3PM ET on Black Friday. College teams used to having that day for rivalry games aren’t gonna like this.

Mike Nolan

Could be but by that time of the season the NFL game may be a meaningless game. It could be a key game in the NFC East as well. Either way I’ll watch the college games way before the NFL game.

John Papenhagen

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Of course, we’re the most sensitive to NFL encroachment on that time slot because we’re the highest-profile program with the longest history of playing on that day. There are some interesting legal and commercial limitations on what the NFL can do to stake out more scheduling territory.

On the commercial side, Amazon paid another $100M to get the streaming rights for an annual Black Friday game to go along with the $1B they paid to get the rights for the Thursday night games that used to be shown on the NFL Network. These contracts, like the rest of the NFL regular season contracts with the over-the-air (OTA) broadcasters that are starting this year, run for 10 years. While, in principle, the NFL could carve off additional games from their schedule to create new packages for sale, I am pretty confident that the rest of the broadcast partners have some contractual language preventing their inventory of games being depleted in this fashion. That language probably extends to additional games created by moving to an 18-game season.

Also, like the ESPN cable contract and the NFL Network games in the past, all games that are being shown on a streaming or cable-only platform must be offered to be simulcast on an OTA station in the local markets of the two teams involved so that fans are assured that every game played by their team all season will be available OTA.

Those OTA broadcasts have some limitations that date back to a federal law passed in 1961. That summer, under the guidance of Pete Rozelle, the NFL copied the strategy of the newly-formed AFL and sold the television broadcasting rights for all of their games as a package to CBS. That contract was voided in federal court for being in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, prohibiting the separate owners from working together to bundle their media rights (notwithstanding the fact that the AFL had already done so and the fact that the AFL franchises represented a set of competitors independent of the NFL franchises). Working quickly, the league successfully lobbied Congress to pass a law by the end of the summer to specifically allow league owners to work in concert to sell TV rights.

During the negotiations, President Kennedy (and others) used their leverage to insert specific protections into the law (15 U.S. Code § 1293) for college and high-school games by blocking out telecasts of NFL contests during certain windows. From the second weekend in September through the second weekend in December, the league can’t make any joint agreements for telecasting “all or a substantial part of any professional football game” starting at 6PM Friday evening and continuing through all day Saturday of any game that occurs within 75 miles of a college or high-school game (that had been scheduled by August 1st of that year).

In principal, if there is an NCAA Division III game scheduled on the night of Black Friday within 75 miles of New York or Miami, the OTA broadcast of Jets-Dolphins game in those markets might have a “Heidi” moment where the game gets turned off if it goes into overtime and runs long. (I’m guessing that the stations would not pull the plug and just say “oops!” or claim that the ending was not “a substantial part” of the game.)

Anyway, at the moment, the NFL encroachment on Black Friday is for a streaming-only presentation except for the local markets of the two teams involved. That is not likely to change for the next 10 years. The expanded College Football Playoff is currently planning on moving into direct competition with the NFL in the third week of December starting next year, but that is the college game moving into turf previously staked out by the NFL. If the NFL does extend the regular season to 18 games, I could also see them choosing to start a week earlier, which would put them into conflict with the Labor Day weekend games. But otherwise, I think the calendar is likely to remain stable for at least another decade.

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Thanks for the lengthy informed reply!

At least in the midwest, the high school football season tends to wind down before Thanksgiving, I don’t know when it winds down in warm weather states. I suspect the agreement doesn’t include college playoff or bowl games, since while the dates are generally known in August, and many of the sites, the teams are not, so they’re probably not considered as ‘scheduled’.