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Old-School Owners John Mara, Art Rooney II Notable Holdouts on NFL Thursday Night Flex Proposal



Steelers president Art Rooney II

PHOENIX — The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell are committed to expanding the Thursday Night Football product to include flexible scheduling late in the season, and two old-school owners, including Steelers president Art Rooney II are set on stopping them.

A two-pronged proposal was brought before ownership this week at the NFL Annual Meeting to increase the quality of games shown on the league’s Thursday Night Football program, whose broadcast rights were sold to Amazon, starting with the 2022 season. 

The first part of the measure passed, which will allow teams to play two Thursday Night Football games on short weeks in the course of a season. Teams can play a theoretically unlimited number of games on a Thursday, but only Thursday games following a Sunday game will count against the maximum of two.

The second part of the proposal, to allow flexible scheduling for Thursday Night Football games in Weeks 14-17, was tabled to the next owner’s meeting in May. It was tabled because there was not enough support for the measure to pass, with Rooney joined by New York Giants owner John Mara among eight owners offering no votes. Two owners abstained. Goodell will need 24 yes votes in May to get the motion to pass.

He probably shouldn’t bother with Mara, who lambasted the plan in his press briefing with New York media on Tuesday.

“I’m adamantly opposed to it,” Mara said to “Flexible scheduling … is really inconsiderate to our season-ticket holders who fill our stadiums every week. People have gotten used to going from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night, but that doesn’t mean they like it. This year, we can be flexed to Monday night, which I think is very inconsiderate to our ticket holders.

“But to flex a game to Thursday night to me is abusive, and I’m adamantly opposed to it. Fortunately, it didn’t get enough votes, but it will probably be revisited in May.”

Goodell defended his plan, and said that most fans would benefit from better games being played on national television, compared to the relative few that would be impacted by a schedule change.

“Listen, there isn’t anybody in that room, any of our organizations, who don’t put our fans first,” Goodell said. “That’s really important. Obviously, providing the best matchups for our fans is part of what we do. That’s part of what our scheduling has always focused on, and flex has been a part of that. We are very judicious with it and we’re very careful with it and we look at all of the impacts of it.

It’s notable that Rooney and Mara are part of the oldest cadre of NFL ownership groups, with their grandfathers founding those franchises in 1933 and 1925, respectively. Those long-term ownership groups, which did not come to NFL ownership after success in other fields, but have come up with the game, seem to be the best representatives of the league’s fans in this matter.

“People make plans to go to these games weeks and months in advance,” Mara said. “Fifteen days ahead of time, to say, ‘Sorry folks, that game you were planning on taking your kids to Sunday at 1 o’clock, it’s now going to be Thursday night.’ I mean, what are we thinking about?

“I suppose it would [increase viewership], but at some point can we please give some consideration to the people coming to the games? I understand the ratings towards the end of the year on Amazon were down a little bit. We probably had some bad matchups. Let’s pick better matchups.”

Rooney might end up being a voice of compromise, as he suggested that a longer length of notice in the schedule change might work out more in the favor of fans.

“The biggest problem I had with the flex was that the proposal was that you only had 15 days’ notice,” Rooney said. “That’s just too short of a turnaround time for a flex from a Sunday to Thursday, as far as I’m concerned.”

The only motion that could be voted on this week was the one put forward, but Rooney suggested that there may be a compromise proposal put forward in May.

“For me, the biggest thing would be lengthening the time of the notice that you have to be flexed to 30 or more days,” he said. “So, that would make the biggest difference if we can get to that.”

The owners will re-convene in May in Minnesota to discuss all matters tabled from the annual meetings. The ownership of the Washington Commanders is also expected to be brought up at that time.

NFL Annual Meeting

Click for more of Alan Saunders’ coverage from the 2023 NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix.

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