Behind the scenes: How the NFL created the 2023 schedule


2023 NFL Schedule out. It’s a 272-piece puzzle game covering 32 teams over 18 weeks, catering to numerous television partners and trying to drive massive national interest in the games that dominate the sports landscape from Thursday through Monday every fall weekend.

Following Thursday night’s edition, FOX Sports spoke with Blake Jones, the NFL’s Senior Director of Broadcasting and part of the league’s tireless staff who has worked through millions of permutations to create a schedule that’s fair to all parties and puts the biggest games in the right direction. Windows over 18 weeks.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how the NFL schedule was created.

Q: What unique challenges have emerged this year as part of this scheduling process?

A: We got a decision to allow more teams to play short Thursday games in a Thursday week, and when we specified those and games we were going to play in the Thursday night package, that meant some teams would have those short weeks more. from once during the season. And we really tried to focus on how those fell in relation to the farewell. Yes, it’s a short week on Thursday, but you tend to have a little longer break to come back to the next week. Some teams have even told us they treat this like a little goodbye, so we try to space those out – in a way that we’ve been working really well for the teams.

Q: Are there strict scheduling rules, or more guidelines that you want to avoid like three straight games at home or on the road and things like that?

A: There are some of those bases that are evergreen. As you know, the simplest is the number of home games each team plays, the number and total of road games. These are black and white. You can break those rules. Then we have those possible pieces. We just don’t want to see them often, and for our system to work they need to be avoided as much as possible. But if we have to take them, we pay close attention to who they happen to be, and what the circumstances are around them.

There are varying degrees of some of those things that can feel worse than others. And so we’ll go through and throw lots and lots of streams where we’ve said, “I just don’t like the way the X team ends up, for this particular piece.” So we try to minimize it as much as we can, but a little give and take for all those pieces some of which end up coming into play.

Q: I think the computer automatically highlights potential tags when you have a model with 272 games in it, so it will say, “Hey, dallas He’s got three straight road games here.Houston Five weeks go by without a home game. “I imagine that makes it easier for you to anticipate the most obvious concerns about any potential total schedule you might be considering.

A: Yes, absolutely. We get those instant red flags to say, “Here are a few things we need to watch out for.” We look at those first and see is this a version of that happening like three consecutive road matches for a team, is that not one we’re comfortable with or is it, you know, all the travel relatively easy and maybe an extra day of rest going into the last thing that makes it a little bit more palatable. So we evaluate each case individually.

Then we see how it probably stacks up across any given timeline. We look at those and say, “Actually, this sequence, I don’t think we’ll ever be comfortable with it, so let’s change this rule so that we don’t try to avoid it” and change that to “Never show me where this happens again.” Then we line it up and run it again. . And then we do it, so it’s an iterative process over and over again.

Q: There has always been a ridiculous number of permutations that your PCs do trying to find the perfect schedule, and I feel like that number is only higher because Sunday afternoon games are no longer far behind FOX or CBS based on road team. To what extent did this complicate the calculations?

A: Certainly, a higher number. It’s more hardware, better software to show many different permutations when you unlock sort of what used to be the default AFC and NFC mappings, which gives us more flexibility. I think it will really come out on a Sunday afternoon when we’ll be able to push those old boundaries to give us some good mixes for FOX and CBS on Sundays.

Q: I think the release of the schedule is an awareness for some fans who are used to one network or another of what’s to come in terms of getting to know broadcasters from other networks.

A: We obviously do business with FOX and CBS across the board. But when you’re talking to fans of a certain team who are really used to seeing their team on either FOX or CBS… I hope this is a good show for fans and a good opportunity to start sort of moving away from those old strict ratings, and think of it as a little bit broader kind of sharing. The wealth of those games is across multiple partners.

Q: How do you determine the star value of a team? Because this offseason showed how one transaction can radically change that: Tom Brady retires, Aaron Rodgers Going to PlanesAnd Lamar Jackson stay with crows And so on and so on. How that relates to prime time and national windows and which teams want to maximize in those games.

A: It’s a way that we’re trying to apply more data and analytics to, as it’s historically been a gut feeling and instinct. We’re now trying to build more data impacting merchandise sales, ratings history, obviously. Where is the fuss now around certain teams, especially in the off-season, when we have to set the schedule, what is the fuss about certain teams and the moves they make, and what does it feel like to start last season.

And so we’re looking at all those kinds of factors and trying to dig as deep as we can to understand what our fans are looking for, what they’re drawn to and from to try and get an indication of which teams would be the right teams to put those pop-up windows in order to give our fans the best viewing options possible that we can use across the board. domains.

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Q: There’s a natural cycle where two or three years out of every seven, you have games lined up with Christmas and New Year’s weekend. You have a triple header on Christmas now and most of the league plays on Christmas Eve. How sensitive are you about having teams travel that weekend in consecutive years or anything like that?

A: When you look at it, our Week 16 falls just as Christmas weekend as it did last season. So obviously we have to play a whole slate of games over that weekend. We need to have a similar number of home teams as road teams, so half of the league will be on the road this week.

We put a special focus last year and this year on the triceps on Christmas Day. Give the teams the chance to give us some feedback as far as they’re preparing to host at Christmas. Some would say, “You know what a challenge it may be for us in our city to get the stadium ready for Christmas or to put the right pieces in place to do the job, or our fans may not be able to get it to work on Christmas.”

The other side of the coin: Well, if you’re not going to put your hat in the ring for hosting, you should probably be on the road. Because we have to play the whole week. Inevitably, not every team will have to pick and choose if it’s home or away, but we’re trying to do that at least for the treble leader on Christmas Day.

Q: We know Week 18 is divisional games only, and we know Week 1 is a great week. What are the priorities and the most important parts of the calendar?

A: Thanksgiving, Week 12 was a big one for us, as we launched Black Friday on Amazon Prime. This is a new game for us to pick a game that week on a day we haven’t played a date. We know how we built around Thanksgiving Day through Thanksgiving Eve. Now, where do we add a Friday game? And then for every one of those games that we’re out for Thanksgiving and Black Friday, there’s four fewer games now to fill that Sunday afternoon, Sunday night, Monday night of that week. So we have to be very careful about how we organize the matches to make sure we have a great weekend of football from Thursday to Monday. Even by adding a new standalone national window on Black Friday.

[RELATED: NFL schedule release: Five key factors that players and coaches look for]

Q: Are there memorable hurdles in getting this to a finished product schedule that are more difficult to solve than others?

A: I think one of the interesting things was historically with the Thursday night pack, we have a policy that a team can’t play more than two time zones for a Thursday night game. Every few years, though, we have a team that’s going to run cross country against several cross-country opponents and they’ll call those games back-to-back, and they’ll stay there and they’ll train.

In this case, you will see that the giants Do this in the second and third weeks. And in doing so, teams often feel comfortable playing one of their Thursday night cross-country games and that’s how you see the Giants-49ers Week 3, on TNF on Prime Video. A game that, according to policy, is usually not a game that we can schedule. But by working with the team on their travel and managing their cross-country trips, we were able to determine that it was an option and that they were comfortable with. And I think it’s a good, exciting game with two playoff teams that would be fun to see early in the season on the TNF schedule.

Q: You have five matches abroad between London and Frankfurt this year. Is there a hypothetical for teams to take their byes a week after those games to reduce the impact of travel for the next game?

A: So it has evolved. It started with the London Games supporting operations years ago as it was a given: every team takes their farewells after London because it was a unique off road trip. It’s evolved now that teams now have the option to tell us: Do you want a bye or just want a home game after that trip?

Teams have given us different answers, but we are starting to see more and more teams choosing to play at home, especially those teams that play in London earlier in the season. Competitions in Week 4 or 5, they will likely choose to play at home in order to give themselves a chance to drop their bye a little later, closer to the middle or latter part of the season in order to continue to take advantage of that rest later in the year.

[RELATED: Jaguars to play twice in London among five NFL international games in 2023]

Q: When did you reach the final schedule?

A: We went and met on Monday, and I think we had what we call the ultimate leader. We made our final changes that day and met with the Commissioner, went over everything with him and decided we were ready. Full speed ahead. Let’s make the version on the eleventh.

Greg Aumann is FOX Sports’ NFC South correspondent, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers, and Saints. He’s in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full time, after spending time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @employee.

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