The fallout of the NFL’s “abusive” TNF-flex proposal

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Thursday Night Football has often been a controversial topic, and now the league office is attempting to increase the amount of Thursday Night action we will see.

When the annual league meeting concluded on Wednesday, March 29 in Arizona, fans learned of Commissioner Roger Goodell’s proposal to increase the allowance of each team’s Thursday Night Football (TNF) appearances from one game a season to two, as well as proposing the potential to flex games to a TNF slot. 

The announcement was met with a considerable amount of defiance from players and owners alike. From Patrick Mahomes to Giants owner John Mara, the opposition to the proposal has been firm. 

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Last offseason the league announced they had signed an 11-year $11 billion deal to show TNF games on their streaming platform exclusively.

The move wasn’t popular with the “legacy” broadcasters (FOX, CBS, ESPN and NBC) and sources suggested that they were quietly hoping that Amazon Prime would “fall flat on its face”. 

Despite a 28% fall in average viewership from TNF broadcasts in previous seasons (a fall to 9.6 million from the previous seasons’ 13.4 million viewer average), Amazon Prime did draw in a younger audience, according to reports. 

The quality of football on show in the season’s early games left a lot to be desired with games like a week five field goal-fest between the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts ending 9-12 at Mile High. 

Nonetheless, primetime football under the lights always has appeal to the NFL whatever the results due to the commercial revenue generated in primetime windows.

Through the years we’ve consistently heard claims from Commissioner Goodell and league executives claiming that player safety is paramount, but in the wake of decisions like this, it appears that it is paramount until the allure of more money comes to the fore. 

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In the last week, we’ve seen San Francisco 49ers tight end, George Kittle, saying: “I’m in multiple car accidents every Sunday”, due to the violent nature of the NFL. 

Speaking on Theo Von’s podcast, Kittle said he has to dedicate a significant amount of time to his “brutal” recovery in the week following a Sunday game. 

Kittle added: “If I’m not doing football, I’m doing recovery.”

While making his annual appearance at Wrestlemania this weekend, the four-time Pro Bowler said: “Thursday to Friday is when I start to feel like myself again.”

The 2019 All-Pro tight end suggested: “If you’re going to add another game, just add another bye, then there will be 19 weeks, so more football, more money to be made. 

“I bet if the NFL were to put out a vote now, I don’t think any player would complain about that.” 

While the owners voted to allow two TNF games a season, the vote on a decision to be able to flex games to a TNF window was upheld, and the topic will be revisited in May. 

Brian Rolapp, NFL executive vice president and chief media and business officer said: “We’re interested in making sure that we get exposure for all of our clubs.

“We also believe that these national windows are for clubs that are playing well, we want to put the best teams in the best windows.” 

Giants owner, John Mara, called the idea to be able to flex games to Thursday “abusive”, the plans would see flexed games be announced 15 days before the scheduled Thursday kickoff. 

“At some point, can we please give some consideration to the people who are coming to our games?”, Mara said. 

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Commissioner Goodell refused Mara’s suggestion that the plans were abusive: “There isn’t anybody in any of our organisations that doesn’t put our fans first. 

“Providing the best matchups for our fans is what we do, that’s part of what our schedule has always focused on, flex has been part of that.” 

In the wake of the proposal, reigning NFL and Super Bowl MVP, Patrick Mahomes took to Twitter and posted a simple ‘facepalm’ emoji, quite succinctly summarising his feelings on the topic. 

In response to Mahomes’ post, Goodell said: “I don’t think we are putting Amazon over players’ interest, we look at data with respect to injuries and impact on players […] I think we have data that’s very clear, it doesn’t show a higher injury rate.” 

Despite the strong backlash from fans, journalists, owners and players alike it seems the league is adamant in trying to push through a Thursday night flex.