Football fans just received an early gift from the NFL, or at least from its vice president of broadcasting, Mike North. During an interview on the Sal’s Sports and Stuff podcast on April 19,2022, North announced that the very first Christmas triple-header is scheduled for this year. According to him (and the Associated Press) there will be two afternoon games on CBS and Fox, along with a prime-time game on NBC. The 6 teams playing will be announced on May 9.
NFL Holiday Ratings
While the NFL already has a wildly popular triple-header every Thanksgiving, they’ve also seen massive viewership on Christmas. Last year's games saw the Green Bay Packers beating the Cleveland Browns 24 - 22, averaging out 28.6 million viewers for Fox. And the Indianapolis Colts won against the Arizona Cardinals 22 - 16, earning the NFL Network 12.6 million viewers. North himself even pointed out during the interview:
"Christmas, when it falls on an NFL game day, we've had a lot of success there, all due respect to our friends at the NBA. When we can play football on Christmas, it has proven to be something that our fans are interested in."Mike North
Regarding the announcement, North said, "If Christmas falls on a Sunday, it makes perfect sense." North also says that they are planning a similar lineup for 2023, since Christmas will be a Monday. It’s unlikely that the same thing will occur in 2024, however, due to it falling on a Wednesday. “I’m not sure we’re gonna play on Wednesday,” North stated, “but when we can play on Christmas, we will.”
A History of NFL On Christmas
Despite being around since 2020, and broadcasting since 1939, the NFL only had three Christmas games during its first 70 years. At least in the beginning, the season would end during late November or early December. As it gradually expanded, they intentionally scheduled games to avoid playing on Christmas. Finally, in 1971, they decided to air their very first two Christmas games ever. Unfortunately, the second one ended up lasting seven hours — the longest ever in NFL history. Needless to say, it interrupted many family dinners that day. So after numerous complaints, they went right back to avoiding the holiday altogether.
That all changed in 1989, when the NFL held their first regular Christmas game as part of NBC’s Monday Night Football. During a 9PM game — scheduled so as not to interfere with holiday gatherings — the Minnesota Vikings won against the Cincinnati Bengals 29 - 21. Since then, there have been 22 Christmas games — including seven double-headers — making it a new semi-regular tradition.
A New Holiday Tradition
For the past 33 years, the NFL has scheduled at least one game whenever Christmas falls on either a Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. And when it's on a Sunday, all the normal afternoon games are moved to Saturday, with one or two left for the next night. This way, most of the teams still get the day off and the remaining two or four have enough time to celebrate the holidays.
The NFL’s latest announcement also means new competition for the NBA, which has played on Christmas every year since 1947. In fact, they’ve consistently scheduled five broadcasted games since 2008, with last year’s games airing on both NBC and ESPN. Although, considering that they each averaged out to only 4.1 million viewers, the NBA might be more than a little worried about this news.
Regardless, football fans couldn't be more excited!