NFL news: NFL salary cap could be higher than expected in 2021

By Matt Johnson
Oct 5, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; NFL logo on goalpost padding during the game between the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

NFL news: As the NFL prepared for its 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the league braced for an unprecedented financial hit with many teams playing in empty stadiums. Fortunately for teams and players, the economic fallout might not be as bad as initially feared.

When the NFL season comes to a close, the league will likely have lost upwards of $2.7 billion this year. Team owners, general managers and players prepared for the worst before Week 1, but it seems the league’s greatest fear might not happen.

NFL news: 2021 salary cap could be higher than league’s initial fears

Before the season, the NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to set the salary cap floor at $175 million. It would be a steep decline from the NFL salary cap this season ($198.2 million), but the agreement meant avoiding an even more alarming drop by spreading out the lost revenue across multiple seasons.

According to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, there is now optimism that the NFL salary cap in 2021 could be significantly higher than $175 million. In fact, the possibility exists for it to be set around the range of $195 million in the best-case scenario.

NFL news: League fears COVID-19 outbreak after Thanksgiving

Developments in COVID-19 vaccines, which could be readily available for the general public by the spring of 2021, are partially responsible for the optimism. Team owners are hopeful that by the time the 2021 NFL season begins in September, they can have stadiums packed at full capacity.

The loss of stadium revenue takes a significant chunk out of the league’s yearly income. The hit sustained this season and some concern that the COVID-19 pandemic could impact stadium attendance next year led to the league bracing for a major reduction in the NFL salary cap.

Of course, it’s not the only factor in play. Even more important than stadium revenue, TV deals with major networks is the driving source of the NFL’s total revenue each season. On that front, things look even more promising.

NFL news: League negotiating new television contracts with networks

Once the NFL and NFLPA signed a new collective bargaining agreement, the league immediately turned its focus to renewing its contracts with major networks. While many of the deals don’t expire until 2022, negotiations are already underway.

FOX is seeking to expand its NFL coverage, with a desire to broadcast more games in future seasons. The network has seen a spike in viewership this season, with the “Game of the Week” routinely drawing in high ratings. FOX is reportedly willing to pay $2-plus billion to the NFL for the rights to broadcast games in the future.

Meanwhile, ESPN finds itself in a bidding war for expanded NFL coverage. The television network could look to outbid NBC for the television rights to Sunday Night Football, which routinely draws a bigger audience and more prominent games than Monday Night Football. Additionally, ABC is looking to get involved in the bidding to broadcast a future Super Bowl.

NBC recently picked up an additional playoff game, signing a contract with the NFL to broadcast one of the additional wild-card games. Of course, CBS will also be seeking to broadcast NFL games and its contract with the league ends in 2021.

Beyond the traditional television networks, the NFL recently renewed its deal with Amazon to stream Thursday Night Football games. On Dec. 26, Amazon will exclusively stream the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals game.

Given the lucrative broadcasting deals awaiting the NFL, which could net the league more than $8 billion per season, it’s evident the league’s long-term financial outlook is promising. With so much money on the horizon, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the NFL salary cap didn’t drop as far as initially feared.