The 18 game season is getting a lot of ink today. I have thought a lot about the impact of such a schedule, and I think I surprised myself a little, but I like it (although I don’t think that is going to be the majority view on this site). Here are a collection of notes on the 18 game season.
This is the most obvious solution to the labor dispute. Keep cash player payout about the same (in % of revenue terms) and go to an 18 game season. The reason this is so beneficial is that increased revenue from two additional games creates a huge profit margin for owners, because debt service (and other fixed costs) don’t vary with revenue, and that debt is allegedly the biggest squeeze on owners’ profitability. (See this post, especially the edit at the end.) So owners get more and players get a share of a bigger pot. Everyone wins, financially.*
The players already agreed to an 18 game season. Mike Florio bangs the table about this one, and justifiably so. I am sure Asante Samuel and Todd Herremans and other players don’t want to play 18 games during a regular season. But I am also sure they don’t want to take a pay cut, which could come from being locked out or through bargaining. Which do you think will dominate in the end? We see that in prior negotiations, in fact, they were fine with up to 22 regular season games.
Therefore, at a minimum, this is a negotiating ploy. The ultimate goal for the NFL is to increase profit margins. Whether it is by increasing revenue without changing fixed costs, or by decreasing player costs, the plan is a fatter margin. The players want their share of revenue to be constant – remember, right now, the cap isn’t a binding constraint on salaries right now, there is upward potential if they just keep the number the same. Both sides will use this issue to get what they want. But I think that in the end, since both sides have objectives met by adopting the expanded schedule, I think it is going to happen.
I’m not aware of a definitive look at injury risk. The biggest negative for the proposal is injury risk for players who go through two more games in a year. Bill Barnwell points out that injuries increase as a season progresses (of course they do) but I haven’t seen any research that suggests whether incidence of injury increases with games in a season, or decreases, or is unchanged. A natural experiment is the fact that we actually have teams that play 18 (or more) game seasons right now, once the playoffs are taken into account, so we can actually compare playoff teams to non playoff teams and see what the injury impact is. Further, it is possible to look at players’ careers and post-NFL lives as a function of games played per season and see what the marginal impact is. But I don’t know if that work has been done – I’m sure Pat or one of our other well-versed readers will point me to it if it does exist. My main question: would going from 16 to 18 games make a huge difference, or is that marginal long-term impact much smaller than, say, the impact of going from 6 to 8 games?
There will likely be concessions to make the physical toll a bit easier to take. That includes things like fewer preseason games, larger active and inactive rosters, an extra bye week, and even lighter off-seasons. Will this mitigate the injury/long term damage concerns? Probably not entirely. But it will help.
We are already asking 90% of players to play more than they already do. We expect every player on every team to be able to play 19 or 20 games – i.e. win the Super Bowl. We aren’t currently asking a player to be able to play 16 games and then go home; even those whose teams don’t make the playoffs in the end would have to have been able to go another three or four weeks if they had advanced. We are now going to expect that to be 21 or 22 games. That is really the change in expectations, regardless of the fact that it won’t be achieved by 30 of the 32 teams. Heck, at least 75% of the players in the league won’t meet the old expectation under an 18 game regular season anyway.
I feel bad about the injury risk, but barring more evidence, for me, it's part of the game. We can claim sympathy for players all we want, but we are asking them to play tons of games already – in fact, that is their reward for being good! More games and more injury risk! I understand that players are concerned by the reality, and they should be – I hope they get a great deal of money both while playing and after retirement in return for the marginal games. I don’t begrudge them a cent. But we all knew it was a brutal sport going in. My problem is the impact on the players that exists – once I get past that, the impact from two more games doesn’t bother me, barring data showing that the marginal long-term impact increases significantly with games played in a year.
The real issue for me is entertainment value.Yes, I’d love two more games. I would absolutely be more likely watch them on tv live. I’d pay money to see them. If I had season tickets, I’d pay more for nine regular season games plus one preseason game than for eight and two, so you could make me pay more. I would be entertained, and thrilled to watch more football. As a fan … I would be thrilled with a longer season. Even in years when I was just waiting for it all to end (2005, for instance) I wouldn’t have been that sad to have had two more games. Not in a way that outweighs how great it would have been to watch two more games of the 2004 regular season. Yes, the Super Bowl in late February or whatever will be tough to take, and I don’t envy the teams that have to play in Green Bay or Buffalo at that time of winter, but in general, more football is a very good thing.
* I swear, on the EMB a year or two ago, I put up a prediction of how this would turn out, and it included five prongs: no change in cash as a % of revenue to players, 18 game season, increased penalties for badly-behaving players, limits on rookie contracts, and somewhat increased payouts to retired players. But I can’t find the post. Ugh. I still think that is a deal that gets done, though.