The NFL is going down a bad road with its Christmas games on a Wednesday

For almost 100 years, the one thing the NFL didn't try to mess with was Christmas.

Until 1989, there were two Christmas games in NFL history, a couple of playoff matchups in 1971. There was criticism over those games intruding on the holiday. Even when the NFL started trying out some Christmas games many years later, it was rare. Through 2015, covering 96 seasons of the NFL, there were only 17 Christmas Day games. The NFL would move its normal Sunday schedule if it happened to fall on Christmas.

For different reasons, Wednesday was also off-limits. From 1948 through last season there had been only two Wednesday games in NFL history. In 2012, the NFL moved a Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants season-opening game from Thursday to Wednesday due to the Democratic National Convention, and a 2020 Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game was played on Wednesday due to COVID-19 complications.

That meant the NFL had some limits. Not anymore.

The announcement on Tuesday that the NFL will have a Christmas Day doubleheader is troubling. The NFL saw that Christmas was on Wednesday and decided it was another day to take over.

It's an incremental step. Don't think the NFL will stop there, or that it's a step in a good direction.

NFL will be on just about every day of the week

The NFL understands that if it slowly changes things, it won't seem like such a shock. We'll just get used to it over time.

That's what happened with taking games off traditional television networks. They streamed games online. Then they had some games on paid streaming services. Then there was a playoff game on paid streaming services. And there will be another next season. You know where this is going.

Santa Claus will have to make sure his rounds are finished early this year so he can settle in for football. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Santa Claus will have to make sure his rounds are finished early this year so he can settle in for football. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

That's what happened with Christmas games. The NFL tried a Christmas doubleheader in 2016. They kept putting games on the holiday that was once off-limits, and then in 2022 they shifted it to a tripleheader. And another in 2023. Now it doesn't seem so crazy that there are games on Christmas. Even on a Wednesday.

The ratings will be a drug to the NFL. Roger Goodell can say now that Wednesday football won't be a "regular thing," but just wait until millions of people tune in this year.

The NFL is putting a game on Friday this season too. It's the first opening-week Friday game in the NFL since 1970.

That means this season the NFL will have scheduled games on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday (presumably, late in the season as usual) and Sunday. The only surprise would be if the NFL isn't already plotting ways to get games on Tuesdays next season.

NFL expanding its Christmas games

The justification for the Christmas games on a Wednesday will be the television ratings.

Bookmark this and revisit it on Dec. 26 or 27. You will see headlines touting how great the ratings were for the games between whichever four teams get stuck playing on a Christmas Wednesday, and someone will compare it to the NBA playoffs or World Series.

Already, the NFL is pushing the idea that viewership makes their decisions right.

"When we saw the viewership from this past year, really our fans spoke," NFL executive vice president of media distribution Hans Schroeder said, via NBC Sports Philadelphia. "We certainly saw and believe that they are very much enjoying and wanting NFL football on Christmas."

We will watch the NFL no matter what. Whether it's on Christmas Wednesday, on a paid streaming service or at 3 a.m. on a random weekday in June. We're hooked. The NFL knows it. We know it.

The expansion of the NFL into every day of the week and every holiday isn't for the fans. It's to maximize the NFL brand and therefore, maximize profit. There are many NFL fans who won't love the idea of changing family plans on Christmas for six hours to watch two games, but will do so anyway. It'll be the start of Week 17 and the fantasy football championship round, after all.

One of the things that has made the NFL a runaway powerhouse in the sports world is the scarcity of its product. You can follow the NFL closely by blocking off Sunday for it, and Thursday night and Monday night when it works. One of the reasons the NBA and Major League Baseball have fallen way behind is it's a part-time job to follow your favorite team over a long season. The NFL seems to want to take over every day of the week, and there will undoubtedly be short-term ratings benefits. It will erode what makes the product unbeatable though. When greed takes precedence over the sport itself, the product suffers. Just look at college football.

We'll settle in on Christmas for a couple of games, whether we really want to or not. The ratings will be great. The league will then use those ratings to convince everyone this is what they actually want.

But it won't be good. For the NFL or anyone else.