The New England Patriots, as well as the NFL in general, might find themselves competing for viewers this fall as other leagues hit their postseasons.
Amidst the chaos of the coronavirus outbreak, the NFL has been pretty lucky.
With COVID-19 hitting North America in the lull of the NFL offseason, the league’s calendar has remained fairly normal; online meetings kept free agency on schedule, the virtual draft went off without a hitch, and the 2020 season is still slated to begin on time.
While the NFL has chugged along, other American sports leagues have not been not so fortunate.
The NHL and NBA were halted less than a month before their respective postseason tournaments, and the MLS, PGA, and NASCAR were only a handful of weeks into their 2020 seasons. The MLB hadn’t even concluded its preseason activities before its year was put on pause.
For now, the NFL stands as the lone major sports league in the US to still have its 2020 game schedule unaffected by the pandemic. There’s no telling whether or not this will still be the case in September, but at this point, all expectations are that football will be played as planned.
Even if the NFL stays on track, though, the fall sports schedule will look different. Much different.
As the pandemic-paused leagues frantically devise plans to resume, any attempt at reaching a proper conclusion will almost undoubtedly involve schedules spilling further into the calendar year than normal. While NASCAR has mostly kept its original timeframe, major PGA events have been pushed deep into the fall and the 2020 NHL Playoffs were rescheduled for the summer and fall.
With golf and hockey paving the way, all signs are pointing towards the NBA following suit in extending its season deeper into the year than normal. The MLB and MLS have the most games ahead — their return plans have included ideas of a delayed finish in November or early December.
Other sports leagues might have their postseasons occur this fall
Football may continue at its usual pace, but there will be a lot going on around it.
When the NFL typically takes over the sports calendar in September, the NHL and NBA will be at the peak of their postseasons. You know how casual fans generally turn their attention to hockey and basketball after football season ends? This year, it might be the opposite.
Instead of sitting down for a Week 2 NFL matchup between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, for example, fans might be drawn instead to a Game 7 with a trophy on the line.
Instead of controlling the November calendar with little competition, the NFL will have to contend with Masters Sunday and perhaps a postponed finish to the MLB and MLS playoffs.
From a sports lover’s perspective, this jam-packed fall schedule is a dream.
For the NFL, though, it brings legitimate competition to the annual autumn window where the nation focuses on football.
Pitting regular-season football against a heavy dose of playoff games from other major leagues will provide interesting insight into the true preferences of the American public. Will the NFL stay steady atop the US sports pyramid, or will fans sway elsewhere, suggesting that the NFL’s popularity could be significantly attributed to its convenient spot in the sports calendar?
A lot will be learned in these fall months when seven professional American sports leagues could all be at meaningful points of their 2020 seasons at once.
After these unprecedented times, however, the NFL could be in an even better situation than it was pre-pandemic.
The NHL and NBA tend to pose the biggest threat to the NFL when their seasons overlap. That will certainly be the case this fall, but in pushing back this year’s playoffs, the NHL and NBA likely sparked future implications that will limit their competition with the NFL going forward.
It’s hard to imagine the NHL and NBA will start their 2020-21 campaigns on schedule in October after presumably finishing the 2019-20 seasons less than a month prior. The more logical plan would be to allow an adequate offseason between October and December and kick off the new season in January, wrapping up with the playoffs in July and August instead of April and June.
In doing this, the NHL and NBA will avoid colliding with the NFL for half of their regular seasons as they usually do. Instead, these winter leagues will spend a single month splitting viewers with football before going up against a much less intimidating opponent in the MLB over the summer.
Would you rather watch game 104 of 162 or a conference finals tilt? Tough choice.
If the NHL and NBA decide to take this approach towards future scheduling, the MLB will be the real loser, suddenly losing its rule over the coveted summer slot currently shared with secondary American sports in the MLS, PGA, NASCAR, and WNBA. Ratings will take a hit and the postseason will still have to face the NFL, but perhaps that will be the wake-up call baseball needed.
Rescheduling the American sports calendar is a headache, but one thing is clear: no one wants to be in the NFL’s way. That can’t be avoided this year, but with the way schedules are lining up, we could see the stretch from November to January dedicated solely to football for years to come.
This fall will pull fans in several different directions, and every league will be left wondering how it can rise above the pack, including the NFL.
Be patient, though, football fans. When the dust settles, the NFL’s domination of the sports calendar will be more evident than ever before.