National Football League team owners have voted to approve the expansion of the league’s playoffs from 12 to 14 teams for the 2020 season.
The move had been widely expected after the NFL Players Association narrowly approved a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement in early March.
Under the new format, only the teams with the best record in the AFC and NFC will get a bye, with each conference gaining an additional Wild Card team.
Owners approved the expansion by conference call, instead of the in-person annual meeting that was scrapped due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
With the move, 43.7 per cent of all NFL teams will now qualify for the postseason, a figure that compares to the current 33.3 per cent in Major League Baseball, 51.6 per cent in the National Hockey League, and 53.3 per cent in the National Basketball Association. The NFL last expanded its playoffs in 1990, going from 10 total qualifying teams to 12.
It was also announced that NBC and CBS will each broadcast one of the additional games. Terms of the deals have not been confirmed. NBC and CBS will also simulcast the games on their streaming services, the soon-to-debut Peacock and CBS All Access, respectively. The NBC game will additionally be aired on Spanish-language sister channel Telemundo.
Notably, children’s channel Nickelodeon – which is owned by CBS parent company ViacomCBS – will air a separately-produced telecast of the CBS playoff game tailored for a younger audience.
The first weekend of the playoffs will include six games, with three games provisionally set for Saturday, January 9, 2021, and three on the following day. In the new format, CBS and NBC will air two games, with ESPN/ABC and Fox both broadcasting one game.
Elsewhere, the NFL has reportedly extended its exclusive digital streaming deal with Amazon, which includes simulcast rights to the Thursday Night Football package, through 2022.
A 17-game regular season, which was also approved in the new CBA, is set to come into effect in the 2021 season.
Despite the current public health crisis, the NFL is currently still planning a full 16-game regular season for 2020 which will start on time, with fans at games, though some offseason training programs may move to a virtual format. The league plans to release its 2020 schedule around May 9.
“Our planning, our expectation is fully directed at playing a full season and starting on schedule,” said Jeff Pash, NFL executive vice president and general counsel. “Just as we did in 2019. Am I certain? I’m not certain I’ll be here tomorrow, but I’m planning on it. That’s what we talked about.”