NFL faces tough obstacles before any 17th game

Updated: May 11, 2007, 7:18 AM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

NFL fans had to be delighted with a report that the NFL, in finding new ways to promote football internationally, will look into adding a 17th game to slip a few regular-season games to places such as London, Toronto, Mexico City and maybe even China.

For years, die-hard NFL fans, particularly those who regularly buy season tickets, have asked why the NFL doesn't shorten the preseason to two games and play 18 regular-season games. This is the first time in recent memory the league has acknowledged it is considering expanding the regular-season schedule at the expense of the preseason. To make this move, the preseason would be three games and the regular season would be 17. Doing that would allow the league's 32 teams to avoid having a season in which teams had only seven regular-season home games.

It's a great thought, but don't expect anything to happen very quickly.

A 17-game schedule would require a major revamping of the league's collective bargaining agreement, along with major adjustments in the network television contracts. Though the players are paid on a 17-week basis for 16 games and a bye week, they would want 59 percent of the revenues of a 17th game. The current $109 million salary cap would have to increase along with players' salaries for the additional game.

The networks might have a hard time justifying the additional costs of an extra week of games because it would mean an extra week of football added to the fall. The season probably would have to start before Labor Day and end after the start of the new year. It's harder for networks to sell ads for pre Labor Day games because families are finishing summer vacations and kids are heading back to school.

The third problem would be the owners. Most teams sell their season-ticket packages in 10-game increments that include two preseason games. During the preseason, players are paid a low weekly training camp salary and teams don't have to share the revenue as much with the visiting squads. Owners make money off the two preseason home games. They would have to be sold on the financial benefits of a move to 17 regular-season games.

Still, this is the forward thinking coming from the office of commissioner Roger Goodell, who is looking for new ways to promote the sport and find new revenue. Call this story an interesting trial balloon. There is a fear of labor disharmony after the 2008 season because owners didn't like the collective bargaining extension signed in 2006. To keep the salary cap, outgoing commissioner Paul Tagliabue had to accept the NFLPA's final proposal, which clearly favored the players.

Goodell and NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw have a good working relationship, and Upshaw recently signed a three-year extension to stay as the leader of the union. Goodell is trying to come up with new concepts that will make more money and will maintain labor peace, as well as keep owners happy. Plus, fans wouldn't mind getting another regular-season game at the expense of a preseason game.

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

ALSO SEE