Despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the National Football League is planning to release a 2020 regular season schedule that will include its normal timetable and still intends to have fans in the stands.
League spokesman Brian McCarthy told ESPN that the NFL will release its 2020 schedule by late this week, as originally intended, and will even have its preseason exhibition schedule set.
The league intends to have its originally planned September 10 opener, a full 17-week regular season, and stage Super Bowl LIV on its existing date of February 7, 2021, in Tampa, Florida. The 2020 season is also expected to have expanded playoffs following recent offseason shifts by the NFL and NFL Players Association.
“We plan to start on time,” McCarthy said to ESPN. “If we have to make adjustments we will be prepared to do so based on the latest guidance from our medical experts and public health officials and current and future government regulations. We have made adjustments and conducted safely and efficiently key offseason activities such as free agency, the virtual offseason program, and the 2020 NFL Draft.”
The Draft indeed was staged in a virtual format to rave reviews and record-level viewership.
The staging of actual NFL games, however, presents a decidedly different story, one that is being closely watched across the industry. Not only is the league the most popular entity in all of US sports and generates the highest TV ratings, but the NFL is one of the few American sports properties thus far to not lose any games yet to the public health crisis.
As a result, the forthcoming schedule release will take on even higher prominence than it already did in prior years. The NFL also has not detailed how it will handle ticket purchasers if games are forced to be rescheduled or played without attending fans. Major League Baseball last week released a new ticket policy, and the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League are expected to follow suit in the coming days.
The 2020 NFL schedule is still expected to be able to account for a delayed start to the season or other similar adjustments.
It is not known, though, how the league will account for international games given travel restrictions to and from the US still largely in place. The NFL intends as part of its 2020 international play plan to return to Mexico and the UK.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is part of a White House committee advising the US government on measures to re-open the American economy following the public health crisis.