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Volume 23 No. 17
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League may not release schedule until after draft

With Joe Burrow at quarterback, the Cincinnati Bengals would be a much more marketable team, at least for television purposes. But what if the Bengals trade that No. 1 overall pick, or even select another player, during April’s NFL draft? All of a sudden, one of its prime-time games may not look as attractive.

That kind of uncertainty has led league officials to look into delaying the release of the 2020 schedule until after the draft, which begins April 23. The league has reached out to both TV networks and teams for input, sources say.

It’s likely that the NFL will push back it schedule release date, sources said, though no firm decision has been made.

Typically networks have pushed back on the idea more than teams, sources said. Networks sell the majority of their entertainment advertising for the year during a period in May known as upfronts. They generally start selling sports programming in the weeks preceding upfronts, where games won’t get lost amid an avalanche of new shows.

Pushing back the NFL’s schedule release could cut into the time networks devote to selling their in-game advertising. Usually, the NFL schedule is finalized at some point in April, although the date is not advertised in advance.

TV network executives have begun to warm to the idea that knowing where an impact player may land outweighs those extra two weeks of selling advertising. In this year’s draft, they identified Burrow, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young as potential impact players that could help a team’s national appeal.

Teams generally want schedules set as early as possible, so they can begin selling tickets to home games and booking travel accommodations for road trips. However, there may be some upside to a delay into May, if it comes along with a more certain date where they could plan schedule release programming or events.