Business of NFL could benefit from playoff expansion

(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

As the first weekend of the NFL playoffs gets underway, signs indicate that this may be the last year of the 12-team format.

A 14-team system will likely be discussed at the annual owners meeting in March. This would mark the first change to the postseason format since 2002, when the current system of four division winners and two wild-card entries was implemented. We’ll examine how expansion could impact four of the league’s stakeholders: franchises, players, coaches and sponsors.


NFL Owners Robert Kraft (Patriots) and Woody Johnson (Jets). (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)
NFL owners Robert Kraft (Patriots) and Woody Johnson (Jets). (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

A 14-team format means more profit for NFL owners. While gate receipts go directly to the league, concessions and parking revenue goes to the home team. The amount depends on stadium leases: The Patriots get $2 million, whereas the Falcons keep less than $500,000. Also, player contracts only span the regular season, so the league compensates players per game, with up to $180,000 for a Super Bowl win.

More contending teams would mean more regular-season games decide berths and seeding, leading to increased interest. For example, the Week 17 matchup between the Packers and Lions to decide the NFC North scored a 16.9 rating, Fox’s highest since 2002. A new format could also change postseason seeding, avoiding unfavorable circumstances like the Panthers hosting a wild-card game despite a losing record and netting the season’s second-lowest rating (6.7) in the team’s NFC South-deciding Week 17 matchup with the Falcons.


(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Competitive players will appreciate a chance to play for a title as well as guaranteed postseason compensation, though in many cases this represents a severe per-game pay cut. Postseason success allows players to capitalize on sponsorship opportunities from in-game moments, as Richard Sherman’s “$5 million rant” demonstrated last season. However, a larger postseason field means more games and more chances for career- or life-threatening injuries. For now, the NFLPA has indicated that it would be open to a postseason expansion.


Former Falcons head coach Mike Smith, who was fired after his team failed to make the postseason in consecutive seasons. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)
Former Falcons head coach Mike Smith, who was fired after his team failed to make the postseason in consecutive seasons. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

Expansion means more chances for coaches to save their jobs with postseason success. While the coaches for this year’s seventh seeds – the Texans and the Eagles – have job security, missing the playoffs still means changes, as demonstrated by the Eagles’ announcement of a front-office shakeup. Coaches also often have performance bonuses tied to Super Bowl wins.


(Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)
(Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

Two more teams in the playoffs means two more sets of sponsors get to ride their respective teams in an additional game. It also means league-wide sponsors get two additional games with which to advertise. However, additional games could mean more burdens on team partners: Sponsors had to purchase a combined 21,000 tickets in 2014 to avoid blackouts for three of last season’s wild-card games.

You can follow Nick on Twitter at @Nick_Zobel.

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