The NFL is starting a new Christmas tradition and it will change how millions of Americans spend the holiday

  • The NFL will play two nationally televised games on Christmas this year.

  • Previously, the NFL avoided games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but the TV ratings were huge.

  • This move could lead to more mid-week games, potentially increasing revenue for the NFL.

The NFL is already deeply entwined with Thanksgiving, and now it wants to be a bigger part of Christmas.

The NFL announced in March that it will play two nationally televised games on Christmas this year.

While the league has played games on December 25 before, this year is unusual because the holiday falls on a Wednesday, a day the league typically avoids. And, after 2024, the NFL will have had the same number of games on Christmas in the last two years as it did between 1973 and 2003. If that trajectory continues, NFL games on Christmas could be an annual tradition moving forward, and the move could have a huge impact on how millions of Americans spend the holiday.

Previously, the NFL only played on Christmas when it fell on one of the traditional days for NFL games — Sunday, Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. The NFL typically avoids games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to avoid short-week scenarios where teams don't have enough rest between games and might be at a higher risk of injury.

But the TV ratings for past Christmas games were huge.

The NFL put up massive TV numbers on Christmas

The NFL's three Christmas games in 2023 averaged 29.2 million viewers, according to CBS, which broadcasts the game. Those featured some of the most popular teams in the league — and Taylor Swift — including the San Francisco 49ers, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Las Vegas Raiders, and the eventual Super Bowl champions, Kansas City Chiefs.

The 2023 Christmas games were three of the 19 most-watched programs on TV last year, according to Nielsen. However, they still trailed the Turkey Day games as those averaged 33 million viewers and had two of the top seven TV programs of the year.

Without knowing yet which teams will be playing in the games and their time slots, it is difficult to predict how big they will compare to last Christmas' and Thanksgiving games, said Jon Lewis, founder of the sports media news and information site Sports Media Watch.

"I do think viewership should remain elevated, but last year was a particularly good stroke of luck with the matchups," Lewis told Business Insider.

Fans attend an NBA game in Denver on Christmas in 2023.
Fans attend an NBA game in Denver on Christmas in 2023.Aaron Ontiveroz/Getty Images

If the NFL is the big winner on Christmas, it will come at the expense of the NBA, which has long been the main annual sports draw on the holiday, with games featuring the best teams and many of the most popular players.

However, the NBA games are not nearly as popular in US households on the holidays compared to the NFL, and the gap is widening. In 2023, the five NBA games played on Christmas averaged 2.9 million viewers, according to The Hollywood Reporter. That was down 30% from 2022.

The NFL won't stop at Christmas

With the NFL breaking from the tradition of avoiding Tuesday and Wednesday games, it not only could mean games on Christmas every year, but it could also be the first step in leading to more mid-week games.

More mid-week national TV games were an idea the league seemed to start warming up to last year.

In March 2023, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told the media that short-week games do not lead to more injuries. He referenced the league's success in moving games to non-traditional days due to COVID-19 outbreaks on teams in 2020, including one game that was moved to a Wednesday.

"My instinct meshes with what Roger Goodell said when he invoked what happened during the pandemic," Mike Florio, NBC's NFL analyst, said on "Pro Football Talk" following Goodell's comments in 2023. "In five to 10 years, they are going to be playing games on Tuesday night and Wednesday night every week."

NFL fans on Christmas
The NFL playing games on Wednesdays means more nationally televised games for the league.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

If the NFL schedules more games, it could lead to more income for the league.

ESPN, which will air 21 national games in 2024, pays the league $2.7 billion annually. On the other hand, CBS aired 107 games in 2023, but only six were national TV games. That network pays the NFL $2.1 billion a year.

In total, the NFL is paid about $10 billion a year for TV deals with CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN, and Amazon.

While additional games could lead to more revenue, Lewis is skeptical that the Christmas games will draw bigger audiences than the Thanksgiving matches.

"I don't see Christmas overtaking Thanksgiving anytime soon, as the latter remains a comfortably bigger draw," Lewis said.

Read the original article on Business Insider