In the past, Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II has never exactly been one of the league’s most vocal supporters for the expansion of the regular season, which was first really pushed as a possibility in earnest during the 2010-2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. At that time, the owners wanted to push the regular season to 18 games.
They effectively made a 17-game season a non-negotiable part of the latest round of CBA negotiations, which only passed with the approval of the NFLPA by the slimmest of margins. While the expanded season will not begin immediately, we could, and likely will, see it as early as the 2021 season. After all, this is why the owners did it in the first place.
Part of the CBA also states that the NFL will not be able to make any attempt to expand the season further during the life of the current agreement, which runs through 2030, so for likely a good decade at the least, the NFL is going to be played with an odd number of games.
That means half the league will have more ‘home’ games, in whatever form that may take, than the other half in any given year. They don’t know how this will all work out quite yet, however, and they do have some time to figure it out.
Rooney did indicate that it could very well help the league reach further into the international game market, however, by fielding a number of games for teams with nine home games in other countries, which chiefly have been held in England.
“I’ve seen speculation that all of the 17th games will be played internationally”, Rooney told the team’s website. “I don’t think there is any notion that something like that would come true, but it does allow the league to expand international scheduling when and where it would make sense”.
He has been very vocal about the fact that the Steelers have a large fanbase in Mexico, and has pretty much gone so far as to imply that they would volunteer for any opportunity to play in front of their Mexican fans again.
There is plenty of time to figure this all out, but it would be interesting to see if this does translate into a relatively significant expansion of international games. One would think that Canada has a market for the NFL, since they do have the CFL. NFL Europe was a thing, too, once upon a time (and honestly, it was a pretty cool thing).
Of all the major sports in North America, football arguably remains the most regional—certainly much more so than baseball, hockey, and soccer. The best way to expand the market is to bring the product to the consumer. But what happens when and if they expand to 18 games?