The NFL’s announcement around a 17-game schedule for 2021 and beyond at least lends a little more sense to the astronomical value of the league’s new media rights deal. Yet, one of the bigger consequences of expanding the number of games — and thus, pushing back the date of the Super Bowl — is what the game will now come in conflict with.
For decades, the Super Bowl took place during the final Sunday in January, then shifted into February for good in 2004 (the 2002 game was pushed a week later due to the September 11 attacks, and after going back to January in 2003, the league’s operated on that calendar since 2004). But moving another week into February brings the Super Bowl directly into conflict with Valentine’s Day.
The tweet above points out the day it comes into direct conflict. But that also ignores how Valentine’s Day works for many that observe — especially once married or with kids. You tend to go out to celebrate when it’s most convenient. That typically means either the weekend before or after, to avoid crowded restaurants and prix fixe menus, have a better childcare arrangement available (if needed) and to also give yourself the weekend buffer if you happen to drink too much.
So whether the Super Bowl is on February 12, 13, 14, 15 or 16 — and maybe more days in either direction, too — it’s probably coming in conflict with Valentine’s Day plans. And that creates problems for nearly ALL of the NFL’s fans, regardless of gender, orientation or marital status.
The NFL, of course, typically expects everything to move for them. The 2015 film Concussion had a quote that captures the idea pretty well: “The NFL owns a day of the week. The same day the Church used to own. Now it’s theirs.”
That same expectation exists in this case for fans, but as the last year in the pandemic has showcased: people can and do find other priorities. Remember, this past Super Bowl had the lowest rating in over five decades. And that was without Valentine’s Day coming into conflict. NFL ratings decline during election years, when audiences’ love lives aren’t necessarily involved. Does the league believe that the game matters to people more than their relationships or sex? (a 2016 survey indicated that a portion of fans at least found football to be more exciting than sex, for whatever that’s worth, though the question also wasn’t asked after people basically haven’t been able to go out for a year)
Beyond just the balancing act it creates for relationships, this also creates a squeeze for restaurants and bars around the country, who have already felt immense pressure due to COVID-19, and now have two big days folded up into one in 2022 and beyond. For the Super Bowl, a lot of the pressure has come from delivery services, as many fans stay home to watch the game. But Valentine’s Day is the second-busiest day of the year for restaurants after Mother’s Day, according to the National Restaurant Association. Folding a huge takeout day with a huge dine-in day… sounds like a lot of extra hassle.
Ultimately, the NFL’s a business and they’ve certainly evaluated all of this to some extent before making this decision. And if they deemed it profitable to make this all happen, then they’re certainly going to do it. But pitting itself against Valentine’s Day does feel like a risk that could backfire. It’ll be networks (and maybe restaurants) that get the brunt of that impact, though… at least until the next TV contract negotiations begin.