For the first time in NFL history, it looks like the league is planning to play a tripleheader on Christmas. The NFL already holds one holiday tripleheader each year (Thanksgiving) and it appears that the league has decided to add a second one to the schedule for 2022.
The NFL’s vice president of broadcasting, Mike North, revealed that information this week during an interview on the “Sal Sports and Stuff” podcast. North is part of a very small group of NFL employees who are in charge of putting the schedule together each year. During the interview, North was asked how the NFL would be scheduling games around Christmas this season with the holiday falling on a Sunday.
Historically, when Christmas falls on a Sunday, the NFL has played most of its weekly slate of games on Christmas Eve and then pushed one or two games to Christmas Day (The league didn’t play its first regular season game on Christmas until 1989 and it didn’t play its first Sunday Christmas game until 1994).
The NFL’s plan this year is to play most of the Week 16 schedule on Saturday afternoon (Christmas Eve) and then follow that up with a prime-time game on Saturday night and three games on Sunday.
“We will play on Saturday night (Christmas Eve) on NFL Network and then when we get to Sunday, Christmas Day, we’ll have a tripleheader,” North said. “We’ll play one game on CBS afternoon, one game on Fox afternoon and our regular Sunday night game on NBC.”
North also revealed that the games will kick off at 1 p.m. ET, 4 p.m. ET and 8:15 p.m. ET, which means the NFL will be now attempting to take over a sports day that has historically belonged to the NBA. North is aware of that, but the NFL’s TV numbers on Christmas have been so monstrous in recent years, that the league decided it was time to put more games on Dec. 25.
“Christmas, when it falls on an NFL game day, we’ve had a lot of success there, with all due respect to our friends at the NBA,” North said. “When we can play football on Christmas, it has proven to be something that our fans are interested in.”
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The NFL has scheduled a total of three Christmas games over the past two years — one in 2020 and two in 2021 — and they all scored big in the ratings.
“We had Minnesota-New Orleans [in 2020], that game did 20 million viewers,” North said. “We had Cleveland-Green Bay last year, that game did 30 million viewers. It was followed by Indy-Arizona on NFL Network and that one performed well.”
The Packers 24-22 win over the Browns drew 28.6 million viewers, which made it the third-most watched regular-season game of 2021. As for the other Christmas game last season, the Colts 22-16 win over the Cardinals was the second-most watched game ever in the history of the NFL Network, which has been airing games since 2006.
“Our fans are telling us — we know they watch on Thanksgiving — they’re happy to watch on Christmas,” North said. “When we can, we’ll find games for windows on Christmas.”
Since that first regular-season Christmas game in 1989, the league has been looking to utilize the holiday whenever possible. In 2004, the NFL played its first Christmas doubleheader, and now, 18 years after that, we’re likely going to be seeing our first Christmas Day tripleheader.
North also offered a few other tidbits during his interview with Bills beat writer Sal Capaccio. For one, you better get used to the NFL schedule coming out in May, because it’s here to stay.
“This is the new normal,” North said. “April is really all about the draft. And then you get kind of a week after the draft to [breakdown winners and losers and breakdown draft grades] and then after about a week of that, everyone kind of turns their attention to ‘OK, we know who’s playing where, now let’s find out who’s playing when.’ And the schedule release now stands on its own as a little bit of a tent pole.”
Before the pandemic, the schedule was regularly released in April.
As for other scheduling tidbits, don’t be surprised if the Bills end up playing in the NFL opener or on Thanksgiving, but not both. The Bills play both the Rams and Lions on the road, which is why they could end up playing in either spot.
“I don’t know if we’re going to find them in both of those windows,” North said when asked if the Bills might end up playing in either game. However, he did note that the scheduling department is high on the Bills this year, which makes it likely that we’ll see them in several high-profile spots.
“I think if you talk about maximizing a team across national television, the Bills are in that conversation,” North said.
We’ll find out what every NFL team’s schedule looks like in less than three weeks. The 2022 schedule will be released on May 12 and you can read about all the details of the release by clicking here.