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The exhibition season typically begins the first weekend of August with theHall of Fame Game; though in some years it can be on the second weekend. Previous seasons have seen theAmerican Bowlgame held the last weekend of July. The first full schedule of exhibition games is held the following weekend. Most games are held on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday nights, with one nationally televised game each night of the week:NFL Networkairs a Thursday game,CBSandFoxa Friday and Saturday night game each, NBC withSunday night games, and ESPN aMonday night game. Unlike the regular season, CBSs and Foxs national exhibition game opponents are selected regardless of conference. Four full weekends of games are held. The fourth and final full week of exhibition games (fifth weekend overall) usually has teams playing exclusively on Thursday night (plus Friday, if any), with no national games. This allows teams a few extra days to prepare for thefirst weekof the regular season. It also prevents conflict with the start of the regular seasons for high school and college football, allowing those venues to expand their first weekends games from Thursday through Monday (Labor Day).
Falcons Announce New Local TV Partner.
Prior to the commencement of theNFL International Series, the NFL had another featured exhibition game called theAmerican Bowl. This matchup was an extra exhibition game for the two teams involved and was often played on the same weekend as the Hall of Fame Game. It was played outside the United States, usually in Mexico or Japan; in the latter case, it often involved games that started at 5:00 A.M. U.S. Eastern time. The American Bowl was held from 1986 to 2005; similar international matches had occurred regularly since 1969.
The NFL schedules the matchups for all of the exhibition games. Since 2002, individual teams have been allowed to negotiate their own deals to play each other during the preseason. The league allows individual teams to provide input into desired matchups and determines the matchups for any games that were not individually negotiated; however, the league sets all game dates and times. The exhibition season schedule is released in the spring, shortly before the regular season schedule is announced. The NFL has set a loose precedent of determining exhibition matchups:
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The games are useful for new players who are not used to playing in front of very large crowds. Management often uses the games to evaluate newly signed players. Veteran players will generally play only for about a quarter of each game (or less) in order to avoid injury; the third preseason game (or fourth for the participants in the Hall of Fame game) is generally the exception, since starters play well into the third quarter and both teams game plan for the game like the regular season.Thus, first-stringers playing time is kept brief in the exhibition season, and in fact players are not paid their regular salaries for exhibitions, but the same per diem which they receive for training camp.
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It was also commonplace for division opponents to play each other in the preseason, due to the larger size of pre-merger divisions, but this is no longer allowed. As recent as 1984, theCleveland BrownsandPittsburgh Steelersplayed a preseason gamedespite the two beingbitter rivals. The last such occurrence was in the 1999 season when the San Diego Chargers played their division rivals the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs in the preseason.
American Football League(19601969)
The exhibition games do not count toward any statistics, streaks, season standings or records whatsoever. For instance, the four wins incurred by the2008 Detroit Lions& the2017 Cleveland Brownsexhibition seasons did not count against them when they went on to become the only teams togo 016; and the1972 Dolphins, despite losing three exhibition games, are still considered to have played aperfect season. Similarly,Ola Kimrins 65-yard field goal in an exhibition game is not considered theleague record, despite being longer than the 64 yard mark set byMatt Praterin the regular season (in 2013).
Unlike the regular season, the exhibition matchups are not based on any rotating or set formula.
Geographically close matchups are preferred, to provide teams with minimal (if possible) exhibition season travel. As such,intrastate rivalsare frequent matchups, provided they are not already division foes;GiantsJets(theMetLife Bowl),RavensRedskinsEaglesSteelers49ersRaidersBucsDolphinsJaguars, andChargersRams(Battle for Los Angeles) are all frequent exhibition matchups). TheBroncosandCardinals, the only two teams in theMountain Time Zone, also play every preseason (though due to Arizona non observance of daylight saving time, Denver is one hour ahead of Arizona during the NFL preseason, which occurs in August).
No two teams have faced each other in the same exhibition season more than once since the 1980s.
On various occasions, severe weather or other factors, have postponed or outright canceled some preseason games. Due to their exhibition nature, suspended or canceled preseason games are normally not made up. In 2004,Hurricane Charleypostponed a Tampa Bay game against Cincinnati from Saturday until Monday. In 2001, a preseason game between Philadelphia and Baltimore was canceled due to turf problems atVeterans Stadium.Similar turf concerns prompted the league to cancel the 2016 Hall of Fame Game at the last minute. The 2017 Cowboys-Texans preseason game, originally scheduled for Houston, was at first switched to Arlington due to the flooding spawned byHurricane Harveyin southeast Texas. The day prior to the scheduled game, it was cancelled to allow the Texans, who departed Houston the previous Friday to play at New Orleans and then were diverted to Dallas/Fort Worth after the game vs. the Saints, to return to Houston.
Games against non-league opponents were still occasionally played, usually with the NFL teams sending a rookie split squad to the game. TheAtlanta Falconsrookies defeated theAlabama Hawksof theContinental Football League550 in a 1969 contest.In 1972, theNew York Jetsrookies defeated the Long Island Chiefs of the then-second-tierSeaboard Football League293 in what is believed to be the last contest between an NFL team and one outside the league to date.
Still, professional football is popular enough that many fans still pay full price for exhibition game tickets, which they must purchase in order to keep their regular-season seats. Many teams are sold out on a season ticket basis and have large waiting lists, with fans required to pay a one-time or annual fee for the privilege of remaining on the waiting list. A minority of teams offer promotions and discounts to fill the stands for exhibition games; an example of this is theBuffalo Billsannual Kids Day promotion, where tickets, already the lowest priced in the league, are slashed to bargain-basement prices (around $10) for children under 12.
As a general rule, teams in the same division will not play one another during the exhibition season; the last in-division preseason matchup happened in 1999.
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TheNational Football League preseasonis the period each year during whichNFLteams play several not-for-the-recordexhibition gamesbefore the actualchampionship or regular seasonstarts. Beginning with the featuredPro Football Hall of Fame gamein early August, five weekends of exhibition games are currently played in the NFL. The start of the preseason is intrinsically tied to the last week oftraining camp.
After the divisionrealignment in 2002, the NFL factors in former division rivalries which were broken due to teams moving to different divisions. For a five-year period from 20022006, the league had the authority to schedule former division rivals for exhibition games (the Cardinals andSeattle Seahawks, who were switched from theNFC EastandAFC West, respectively, to theNFC West, are the most notable examples). It was a move intended to recover potentially lost revenue due to the end of a popular annualrivalry game. In some rare cases, the league has scheduled hot regular-season matchups if they did not happen to be scheduled to play that season. For instance,Tampa BayandSt. Louishad a popular mini-rivalry from 1999 to 2004. The teams were not scheduled to play one another in 2003, so the league reacted by scheduling a Monday night preseason game for them that season.
(5). Pro Football Researchers Association. Archived fromthe original
Exhibition games are almost exclusively played at night due to hot summer weather, and are frequently scheduled based on local convenience (e.g. games on the west coast tend to start at 7:00p.m.PT/10:00p.m.ET). When applicable, the NFLs blackout restrictions apply, although stations are allowed to play the game on a tape delay if the game does not sell out (unlike the regular season policy, when rights revert toNFL Films). However, the blackout restrictions have never been applied since 2015 as a result of a passed vote during the leagues owners meeting in March in which the league, as an experiment because no regular season games in the2014 seasonwere blacked out and an FCC vote in September 2014 to no longer enforce blackouts, eliminated blackout rules for at least the last two seasons. Many more exhibition games fail to sell out than do regular-season games.
With the AFLNFL merger of 1970, the newly merged NFL was granted aSherman Anti-Trust Actexemption, which emboldened some team owners to expand the exhibition schedule and to require season-ticket holders to pay for one, then two, then three home exhibition games if they wanted to keep their season tickets. The exhibition season then became, and remains, a large source of owner revenue that is not shared with the players. From 1970 through 1977, the NFL season consisted of 14 regular season games and six exhibition games, sometimes but not always three at home and three away (the 1973Washington Redskins, for instance, played all but one of six preseason games at home), with some played at neutral sites. Since1978, the regular season is 16 games, and the exhibition season was cut from six to four games. Two teams play five exhibition games, however.
No NFL team has playeda team outside the leaguesince 1976.
There are numerous Pittsburgh-area ties to the Panthers organisation, including former head coachJohn Fox(a former assistant atPittand the Steelers), ex-Steeler linebackersGreg LloydandKevin Greenefinishing out their careers at Carolina, and former Steelers safetyDonnie Shellhaving served as the Panthers Director of Player Development since the teams inception. On the flip side, former Steelers head coachBill CowherattendedN.C. Stateand currently lives inRaleigh. Former Steelers playersWillie ParkerandJeff Reedboth attendedUNC. This also reflects on the increasing number ofWestern Pennsylvanianatives in relocating tothe Carolinas. Similarly, theBuffalo BillsandDetroit Lionsplay each other annually in the preseason, since the late Bills ownerRalph Wilsonwas a native of Detroit and at one point owned a share of the Lions. In addition, both Buffalo and Detroit are the only NFL cities that border Canada, with each city located on opposite sides ofSouthern Ontario.
From 1999 to 2001, when the league consisted of an uneven 31 teams, some additional exhibition games (usually 2 or 3) were played overHall of Fame weekend. In order to account for the uneven number of teams, each team was required to have a bye week during the exhibition season. Most teams held their bye week in Hall of Fame weekend, while the others utilized them somewhere else during the exhibition season. This practice was abandoned after theHouston Texanswere added to the league in 2002, giving it an even 32 teams.
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Interconference game (AFCvs.NFC) matchups are common and encouraged, since regular season matchups between interconference teams are infrequent (teams play other-conference teams only once every four years during the regular season). These games allow teams to travel to particular markets more frequently than normal, and represent fresh matchups.
Along with general in-state rivalries, some long-established Governors Cups are played annually.
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TheCollege All-Star Game, usually the first game of the preseason, was played annually in Chicago from 1934 to 1976, and featured the NFL or World champion against an all-rookie team of college all-stars. During the earlier years of the competition, numerous other regional all-star games of the sort also existed. After the games became lopsided in favor of the NFL, they were abandoned. Between 1950 and 1961, the NFL also attempted exhibition matches against theCanadian Football League(mixing NFL and CFL rules); these, too, were abandoned after the 1961 preseason, after the NFL won all six matchups (the CFL finally won a game against American opposition in August 1961, but this was against anAmerican Football Leagueteam; as a result of the embarrassment, the AFL opted not to play the CFL again beyond that one game).
When the NFL was founded in 1920, there were no such things as exhibition games, and all games counted in the standings and would be used to determine the league champion. In 1921 this was revised to only count games involving two league members, thus allowing non-league exhibitions but still effectively disallowing exhibitions between two league teams. This rule had a direct impact ondeciding the 1921 championship, in which the losing team had insisted, both before and after, that the game only be considered an exhibition. In 1924, the league again changed the rule to declare games held in December or later to be exhibitions. By the mid-1930s, teams prepared for a standard 12-game regular season schedule, although even as late as 1939 teams would schedule non-league exhibition games both before and during the season (duringbye weeks). ThePittsburgh Steelers(then known as the Pirates) were well known for playing both in the NFL and on a limited schedule in the decades-oldWestern Pennsylvania circuitin the 1930s.
In 2008, NFL commissionerRoger Goodellraised the possibility of shortening the exhibition season, in favor of lengthening the regular season. There was a possibility that by 2012, the league would switch to two primary exhibition games (down from 4) and an 18-game regular season (up from 16). Reasons cited were solutions to future labor concerns about revenue, and the overall dissatisfaction with the exhibitions among players and fans. Also, since the NFL is now widely considered a competitive year-round business, veteran players normally train and condition year round, and do not need the extensive exhibition season to get back into playing shape after the previous regular season. This proposal was eventually rejected in negotiations for the leagues collective bargaining agreement, due to objections and concerns over fatigue and injuries raised by theNational Football League Players Association.
In addition, teams previously played home games at stadiums on the fringes of their markets or in markets not currently served by NFL teams. TheAlamodomeinSan Antoniohosted games in this fashion, as didRogers Centre(as part of theBills Toronto Series), withCamp Randall Stadium, the on-campus home ofWisconsin Badgers footballinMadison, Wisconsin, hosting one preseason Green Bay Packers game per year until the late 90s. TheCitrus Bowlwas previously a common venue for games. TheCarrier DomeinSyracuse, New Yorkhas been mentioned as a potential site for such a game, with the host team not yet mentioned.
TexasDallasvs.Houston(formerly Cowboys vs.Houston Oilersfrom 196796)
Another proposal said to be gaining growing sentiment among NFL owners as of 2016 is a proposal to eliminate the last preseason game and give a league-widebye weekleading into the regular season.
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Also, from 1967 to 1969, during the transition period leading up to the formalAFLNFL merger, the NFL andAmerican Football Leagueplayed each other in a series of exhibition matches; notably, the 1969 match between theBuffalo BillsandWashington Redskinswas the only timeVince Lombardiever lost to an AFL team.The 1968 games were played under an experimental rule that eliminatedextra pointkicks and required aplay from scrimmageto score one point (a rule later implemented by theWorld Football Leaguein 1974 and theXFLin 2001).
Starkey, Joe (2006-08-17).Exhibition overkill.
List of games played outside the U.S.
National Football League exhibition season
In the 1960s, teams began playing 14 regular season games, and there was a corresponding decrease in the length of the preseason. Teams played four or five preseason games each year. (For example, in 1966 each of the nineAmerican Football Leagueteams each played precisely four preseason games.) By the end of the decade, however, there would be a rapid increase in the number of preseason games, quickly reaching 1950s levels.
The Hall of Fame Game is carried by NBC as an edition ofSunday Night Football, and on radio byWestwood One, with alternating carriers such asESPNandNFL NetworkinSummer Olympicsyears, which are not allowed pre-emption of any form by NBC (locally produced games usually airing on NBC affiliates must also be re-located to other stations due to the same policy). Beginning in 2015,Compass Media Networkscarries select preseason contests involving theOakland RaidersandDallas Cowboysnationwide.The games are also carried by the teams local radio networks, but the affiliate count is often reduced due to conflicts with baseball and other local sports.
Additionally, some players, coaches, and journalists, and numerous fans, object to the 4-week exhibition schedule. Players have little monetary incentive to play in exhibitions, since they are paid only a training-camp per diem for these games. Their salaries do not begin until the regular season, and thus they are essentially playing in exhibitions for free. Regardless of these objections, owners continue to endorse the four-game exhibition season. The games are an easy source of revenue, and thus are unlikely to be dispensed within the foreseeable future.
Nationally televised exhibition games start at 8:00 PM Eastern Time, while regionally televised games usually start at 7:00 PM local time. Select game nights feature rotating coverage from theNFL RedZonechannel.
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Prior to the 1970 AFLNFL merger it was common for teams to play each other twice in the same pre-season. Among the most recent occurrences were in 1992 when the Dallas Cowboys andHouston Oilersplayed on August 1 in Tokyo, then again on August 15, in Dallas, and in a more recent season, the Buccaneers and the Dolphins played each other twice in one preseason. To this day, although multiple preseason games against the same two teams are no longer common, two teams may hold a joint practice and scrimmage in addition to a preseason contest (see, for example, theBuffalo BillsandPittsburgh Steelersin 2014). It is still somewhat common to see teams that play each other during the regular season once play a preseason game (as with division rivals during the regular season, each team plays one of the games at their home stadium); the majority of preseason contests each year are between teams that do not play each other in the regular season that year.
Currently, every NFL team requires its season ticket holders to purchase tickets at full price for two exhibition games as a requirement to purchase regular-season tickets. Complaints regarding this policy have gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but have failed to change the policy. A judgment in 1974 stated:No fewer than five lawsuits have been instituted from Dallas to New England, each claiming that the respective National Football League (NFL) team had violated theSherman Actby requiring an individual who wishes to purchase a season ticket for all regular season games to buy, in addition, tickets for one or more exhibition or preseason games.
Preseason broadcasts are typicallysyndicatedto a network of stations within the teams market region, which also typically includes a package of team-produced programming throughout the season (such as analysis and coachs shows), local rights to games broadcast on cable, and the right to brand themselves as the official station of the team in the market.
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While selected preseason games are televised nationally by the NFLs main broadcast partners, the majority of them are in-house productions of the individual teams, often in association with a local television broadcaster orregional sports network(such asRoot Sports Northwestfor theSeattle SeahawksNBC Sports Washingtonfor theWashington RedskinsMSG Western New Yorkfor theBuffalo BillsandFox Sports Detroitfor theDetroit Lions). Especially if a teams flagship station is affiliated with ororNBC, rightsholders may also subcontract with their networks respective sports department, such asCBS Sports(in the case of theAtlanta Falcons, whose flagship is CBS-ownedThe CWaffiliateWUPA)orNBC Sports(in the case of theNew York Giantsto provide resources such as camera crews and graphics, or produce the entire broadcast, giving those networks their own ability to evaluate their production teams and the chemistry of network announcing teams before the season starts.
There is usually a conflict with the Major League Baseball season, a situation seen in the 2015 preseason when thePittsburgh Steelersmoved a Sunday evening game against theGreen Bay PackersatHeinz Fieldto a traditional 1 p.m. kickoff to avoid parking conflicts with thePittsburgh Piratesacross their shared lot atPNC Park, when the Pirates had a game moved to Sunday evening as part ofESPNsSunday Night Baseball.
Note: The PFRA erroneously refers to this matchup as the last such contest.
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MissouriKansas Cityvs. St. Louis (currently suspended due to a lack of a team in St. Louis; formerly Chiefs vs.Cardinalsfrom 197087 and Chiefs vs.Ramsfrom 19952015)
The teams that play in thePro Football Hall of Fame Gameare determined solely by the league (and theHall of Fame committee), featuring one AFC team and one NFC team. Its matchup is announced well in advance, around the time of theSuper Bowl, when theHall of Fameinductees are announced. Under some circumstances, the matchup is planned well into the future. For example, theBuccaneersplayed theSteelersin the 1998 Hall of Fame Game, a matchup that had been announced in 1983. In recent times, if there has been an expansion team added to the league, that team will be invited to play in the Hall of Fame game (Carolina, Jacksonville, the new Cleveland Browns, and Houston all played in their expansion seasons in 1995, 1995, 1999, and 2002 respectively). The 2009 game, however, was between two originalAmerican Football Leagueteams: theBuffalo Billsand theTennessee Titans(formerly theHouston Oilers). This matchup was announced afterRalph C. Wilson, Jr.an AFL founder and the only owner ever of the Bills, was inducted to thePro Football Hall of Fameon February 1, 2009. The Titans owner,Bud Adams, was also the only owner his team has ever had. Wilson and Adams were the two last surviving members of theoriginal AFL ownership cabaland are two of the only three men who have majority-owned a Professional Football franchise continuously for fifty years (the lateGeorge Halas, who owned theChicago Bearsfrom 1920 to 1983, is the third). The Hall of Fame game served as a kickoff to the 2009 season, which would have been the 50th season of play for the AFL had it survived as an independent entity.
National Football League Players Association
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Ford, Mark L. (2000).25 Significant Meaningless NFL Games
Gaughan, Mark.For the love of God, spare us NFL preseason.
The exhibition game tickets, however, are usually the same price as regular-season games. Several lawsuits, by individual fans or by class action, have been brought against specific teams or the entire NFL over the practice of requiring season-ticket holders to purchase exhibition games. To date, none of these suits has been successful.
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Exhibition games have been played in professional football since the beginning of the sport. In fact, until league play was formalized in 1920, one could consider virtually all of an independent professional football teams schedule to be exhibitions (as intest matches). In the early years of the sport, teams oftenbarnstormed, and played squads from leagues outside their own, or against local college teams or other amateur groups, charging fans whatever the traffic would bear.
Game canceled because of turf problem
Since 1977, no NFL team has ever faced a team outside the league; this is in contrast to current practice in MLS, NBA, NHL and recent practice in baseball, in which teams can play exhibition games against non-league teams. Unlike the latter leagues however where a near-even parity of talent can exist with foreign or minor league teams, the NFL is stunted by the fact that thede factosecond tier of American football,college footballis disallowed by theNCAAfrom scheduling their teams to play against NFL teams, and the difference in talent between NFL and foreign and/or non-league professional teams is too large to assure competitive contests. Likewise, the differing rule sets and venues between the NFL, the CFL and theArena Football Leaguealso complicates any real competitive attempt at an exhibition game between those organizations (NFL-CFL interleague competitions have been attempted in the past). Even in years when there has been second-tier or competing professional leagues playing by standard 11-man rules, the NFL has opted not to play exhibition games; theXFLUSFLUFLandFXFLnever played against the NFL in their short lifetimes, lest the league risk injuring its star talent or giving potential threats to its monopoly on American professional football any credibility (as it is, the FXFL relies on NFL preseason cuts for most of its rosters).
Teams with close personal ties often play each other. TheSteelersand thePanthers, since 1995, close out their preseason together despite a 450-mile distance betweenPittsburghandCharlotte.
May 31, 1972, p58 The Chiefs played an exhibition game against theNew York Jetsrookies on July 29, 1972, losing 29-3,Packer Excels at Quarterback As Jets Top L.I. Chiefs, 29-3,