Pay attention if you’re like me and enjoy traveling to see your favorite sports teams play. (The first trip together my wife and I took together when we were dating was to San Diego to see my Minnesota Vikings play the Chargers.)
National Football League team owners (barely) approved a policy allowing the league to “flex” games from Sunday to Thursday — and vice versa.
Basically, this means the NFL can take a scheduled Sunday game featuring a great storyline (i.e., two teams with great records, exciting matchups involving high-profile players acquired after the trade deadline, etc.) and move it to the prime time Thursday night time slot — streamed on Amazon Prime Video who paid a bajillion dollars for the privilege.
But isn’t there already a game scheduled for that Thursday? you ask.
Why, yes! There is!
So, what happens to that game? you naturally wonder.
Well, that game gets moved to Sunday.
What about the people who planned to travel to watch their team play on the originally scheduled day? That could cause significant problems for them!
You’re right. It could.
And it will.
My “Flex” Experience
In 2006, the NFL implemented a “flex” option to move a Sunday afternoon game to the prime time Sunday Night Football slot — while “demoting” the previously scheduled game to earlier in the day. (The league must announce such a change at least 12 days ahead.) Flexing doesn’t happen often — maybe once or twice a season.
I’ve traveled to several Vikings home games in Minneapolis and road matchups somewhere close-Ish to my Los Angeles home.
Since the 2006 flex option was put in play, I’ve tried to avoid Sunday night flights home if I hold Vikings tickets for a game scheduled that day. And that really paid off once.
About 13 years ago, I planned to watch the Vikings play the Arizona Cardinals in person at their early December game in Glendale, Arizona. The game was scheduled for around 2:00 PM Arizona time.
But that was before the Vikes signed Brett Favre — the former quarterback of their arch-nemeis, the Green Bay Packers.
That controversial addition to the team had prime-time drama written all over it.
As soon as news broke in August that a Vikings owner’s plane was en route to Mississippi to fetch Favre, I bought game and plane tickets. (Which skyrocketed about a day later.)
But I bought return flights for a (very early) Monday morning flight. The game is going to be flexed to Sunday night, I thought. Arizona is a decent team and the Vikings might be. And Favre is a prime-time draw.
Worst case scenario: I’d be wrong, kickoff remained at 2-ish, and our traveling party enjoyed a night out near our Scottsdale hotel.
Really, it was a win-win scenario.
Sure enough, the game was flexed to Sunday night. (And the Vikings lost.)
Now, that was a schedule change of a few hours. The new policy is a few days.
This new wrinkle could cause problems for those of us who make travel plans months in advance.
The Thursday – Sunday Flex Option
The New York Post’s Ryan Glasspiegel explains that the Thursday – Sunday flex option:
- Is only available during Weeks 13-17 of the NFL’s 18-week regular season
- Can be used a maximum of twice per season
- Games flexed between Thursday and Sunday must be done so with 28 days’ notice.
Why is the NFL Doing This?
Why does any company do anything?
And when it comes to sports and entertainment: streaming. (Living example: I purchased an NFL Sunday Ticket YouTube package one of the first days it became available.)
The additional flex option is “designed to make sure streaming works so the billion [dollars] a year that Amazon Prime Video currently pays for (Thursday Night Football) can become two billion in seven years, when the league has an opt-out, or 11 seasons when the contract ends,” explains NYP’s Andrew Marchand.
“The hundreds or even thousands of dollars the average fan pays to attend games don’t matter. The billionaire owners need more, more, more. It’s never enough.”
What if You Get Flexed?!
Let’s be fair.
Twenty-eight days is pretty ample time to rearrange your schedule in case you plan to travel to a game that ends up getting flexed between a Sunday and Thursday. It’s not like the swap is announced only a few days beforehand — and you’re suddenly scrambling to change or cancel your travel plans.
But on the same token, airfares, rental car, and hotel prices could be significantly higher than when you originally booked them.
And this assumes the new game date and time work with your personal and professional schedule – and those of others in your travel party.
(Worth noting: Week 16’s Sunday games occur on Christmas Eve. Week 17’s Sunday slate falls on New Year’s Eve. Try rebooking flights for those periods.)
Maybe you can’t get many weekdays off — but can catch a Sunday afternoon game before taking a flight home that night. While that’s already a Sunday Night flex risk, the proposition is now dicier. If your game is flexed to Thursday, you might have to stay home and work. Maybe you have family commitments during the week. (“Sorry, kids, we’re no longer going to the football game. All of us now have work or school.”)
And then there’s the matter of trying to sell your game tickets if a matchup is moved — and you can’t attend.
A group of us made reservations for one Sunday afternoon Vikings game this season — which falls during the flex period. Time-off requests were submitted last month and hotels were booked.
That was scheduled before the Thursday-Sunday flex option was voted into place. My friends, family, and I will not be pleased if that game moves to Thursday night. That means missed school for my daughter and additional days from work for the adults. (Most of us are traveling home on Monday to be on the safe side of a Sunday night flex.)
Hey, it can happen only twice a season, some people may say.
Yes. But just once means up to four teams’ worth of fans planning to attend a week’s games must alter or cancel their schedules. We’re talking more than a quarter million people. And that’s just one flex. Not all fans travel to games — but it’s still a pain for many affected.
What About Travel Insurance?
Here’s where Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) travel insurance could be helpful.
That said, my annual travel insurance policy through Allianz (which isn’t CFAR) covers travel for canceled events. But football games rescheduled because the NFL and Amazon need to make more money? I don’t think so.
Keep in mind many airlines got rid of change fees. (Though, you now have flight credit you have to use — unless you book with miles) Unless you purchase a non-refundable deal, hotel reservations can be canceled for free in plenty of time. Same with rental cars.
So, there’s some hope if your game is flexed and you can’t attend.
The NFL introduces an additional flex scheduling option this season: a game can be moved from Sunday to Thursday night. But the Thursday game gets kicked over to Sunday.
There are rules about when and how often such a scenario can be executed. Frankly, the NFL puts a lot of thought into its schedule long before it’s released in May. I doubt a game will be moved from Thursday to Sunday (and vice versa). But I certainly won’t be surprised.
In the event games get moved, fans who travel to watch their favorite teams could pay more (or less) for airfares, hotels, and more. And that assumes they can make their personal and professional schedules work.
What do you think about all this? Please share your thoughts in the below Comments section.
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