NFL Postpones First Football Game Due to Covid-19

Contingency plans kick into gear following Tennessee Titans-Pittsburgh Steelers delay

A football game
CBS said 16% of the country had been scheduled to see Sunday's Tennessee Titans-Pittsburgh Steelers game. Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Key Insight:

As the industry prepared for an NFL season unlike any other prior to last month’s kickoff, many had assumed that at some point during the year, the schedule would be disrupted after league players, coaches or staffers tested positive for Covid-19.

While the first three weeks of the season went off without a hitch, the league has officially delayed its first game due to the pandemic. The Week 4 matchup between Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers, set for Sunday, has been postponed to “later this season,” after several Titans players and staffers tested positive, the NFL said today.

Four Titans players and five team personnel members had tested positive earlier this week, which caused the team facility to be shut down as part of the league’s safety protocols. The league had originally planned to delay the Titans-Steelers game until just Monday or Tuesday, “to allow additional time for further daily Covid-19 testing.”

But following additional positive Titans tests (one player and one personnel member), the game was officially rescheduled. “An announcement of the new game date will be made shortly,” the NFL said in a statement.

No members of the Minnesota Vikings, who played the Titans last Sunday, have tested positive.

The Titans-Steelers game had been scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. on CBS, where 16% of the country would have been able to see that matchup, according to the network. CBS has redistributed other 1 p.m. games into those markets; most will get either the Baltimore Ravens-Washington Football Team or Los Angeles Chargers-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game instead.

While struggling networks welcomed the NFL’s return last year, and the $5 billion ad revenue lifeline it provided them, most execs and marketers anticipated some sort of Covid-related schedule disruption at some point during the season.

But they also knew that the NFL would have less of the pitfalls that have caused several MLB games to be postponed due to positive Covid-19 tests. NFL teams will only play one game a week, which means less travel and less chance of potential coronavirus exposure.

“We have a growing sense of confidence that while certainly there’s very likely to be some kind of disruptions, that the NFL seems fully committed to playing a season. And with their ability to adjust the schedule, and even if there are matchups that need to get canceled, they’ll have enough matchups to fill a weekend, that TV windows probably won’t be missed,” David Campanelli, co-chief investment officer, Horizon Media, told Adweek last month.

All of the networks carrying NFL games had stressed flexibility in their negotiations with clients, in the events that games were canceled or postponed. “Should games get canceled, we would work with clients to mutually agree to re-express dollars elsewhere in the CBS portfolio,” John Bogusz, evp, sports sales and marketing, CBS Network sales, also told Adweek last month. “But if the games are truly canceled, they do have the right to take their dollars back.”

Several media companies whose bottom lines have been decimated during the pandemic, in large part because of the lack of live sports, have been counting on the NFL to help them rebound at the end of the year.

After all, last season the NFL generated an estimated $4.6 billion in national TV ad revenue, according to Kantar Media: $3.3 billion in the regular season and an additional $1.3 billion in the playoffs and Super Bowl. That’s more than double the national TV ad revenue last season from the NBA, MLB and NHL combined ($2 billion).

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.