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Volume 27 No. 87

SBJ Football: Creating A Game Plan For 2021


"And there's a hand my trusty friend! And give me a hand o’ thine. And we’ll take a right good-will draught for auld lang syne.” -- Robert Burns.


I’ve always thought predicting future news carries a lot more downside risk than upside return for a beat reporter. After nine months of COVID, we’ve all had enough risk. With that in mind, here’s six topics I think will dominate the business of pro football in 2021 -- and no predictions.

Keep An Eye On Media Deals, 17th Game

The annual football schedule is such a creature of repetition and habit. There have been 16 regular season and four preseason games since Tom Brady was a baby, and there’s been just one new TV window created since 1988. But the pandemic showed we’re more adaptable than we think, and the NFL and NFLPA both appear more open to change these days. Also, a final vote from owners to extend the season to 17 games appears inevitable, and new media rights deals are in the works. All that adds up to a rare chance to try something different with the schedule, like more weeknight games or even finally getting the Super Bowl to Presidents Day weekend.

Will NFL Be Able To Have Full Stadiums Next Season?

Falcons Owner Arthur Blank told SBJ’s Dealmakers audience earlier this month that by the time the 2021 NFL season rolls around, a "great majority of Americans will have the vaccination and I think you’ll see full stadiums next year.” That’s a widespread belief around the league. But a phrase about counting chickens comes to mind. It’s not difficult to imagine some combination of vaccine delays and/or risk-averse local political authorities getting in the way.

All Eyes On Minority Hiring In Coaching, GM Vacancies

Since the NFL saw an entire coach hiring season go by with no net gain in men of color in the top job, the league has been pushing the issue hard with its 32 teams. The pressure to improve only became more pronounced after this summer’s Black Lives Matter movement. Of course it’s hard to guess the outcome of any particular vacancy, but the league is heavily invested in seeing some improvement in the early weeks of the new year.

NFL On Cusp Of An Official Betting Deal

With sports betting legalization rapidly coming to a critical mass of American consumers, the NFL wants to sign a sports book sponsor in 2021 for the first time. Also, the league has an RFP out for a new real-time data provider after its initial run with Sportradar expires, another big-money deal that could fall into place.

Hype Will Be Huge For Super Bowl LVI

All the stars are aligning for a mega blowout at SoFi Stadium in 2022. With COVID-19 forcing a downsizing in Tampa this year, some brand budgets can be rolled over into next season. The palatial, $5 billion stadium in Inglewood, Calif., has everything you need for an unprecedented bash -- plenty of space, a brand-new, mixed-use campus, 300 suites and world-class electronics. Throw in the cache of Hollywood and the L.A. beach scene, and you can expect to hear hype and planning talk all year.

Salary Cap Struggles

The precise salary cap for 2021 remains unclear, but this is the year for players to feel the financial pain of the pandemic. The steady growth in the cap over the last decade will come to an end, creating a very different offseason on the player personnel side.