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Could Neutral NFL Conference Championship Games Become the New Norm?

If we get the neutral site AFC title game between the Kansa City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, we could see more neutral NFL conference championships in the future.

You don’t need a PhD in economics to know that the NFL loves money and prioritizes it over everything else. And due to the most unfortunate set of circumstances, the league may have stumbled upon an idea that could make itself many millions of dollars in future revenue.

As you may know, the canceled Week 17 Monday Night Football matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals due to Damar Hamlin’s cardiac event caused an uneven number of games played by the AFC playoff teams. The NFL then determined that in the event of a Kansas City Chiefs-Bills AFC championship game, it would play that game at a neutral field because Buffalo didn’t have the chance to earn a win that would’ve given it home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.

That neutral site would take place at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In the scenario this happens, it would likely be extremely successful. Both fanbases wouldn’t have to travel too far and would see a tremendous matchup between two high-powered offenses in ideal domed conditions.

Is it that much of a stretch to imagine this becoming the norm on a yearly basis?

The NFL could make conference championship weekend an annual event at either two locations like college football does with the CFP semifinal round, or at one location with games on both Saturday and Sunday, though field conditions could hinder that idea. Those semifinal games likely drive millions in revenue for the host cities, and the NFL could build a festival-like week of events around it just like it does for the Super Bowl.

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This plan would certainly get complaints from smaller-market, colder-weather teams who would likely not get to host conference title games anymore, with Kansas City and Buffalo ironically among those cities who’d likely end up on the short end of the stick. But for cities who haven’t hosted the Super Bowl in a while or got lost in the rotation a little, this would be their opportunity to host a marquee game in either conference and earn tens of millions for their respective local economies.

The neutral conference championship game plan would also allow the NFL to experiment with putting those games in locales it wouldn’t risk having the Super Bowl at, like a year where both NFC and AFC games are played internationally in London, Munich, or even Mexico City. It would also fit into the league’s playbook perfectly in offering another carrot to teams who may be reluctant to build a new stadium to do just that: “We wouldn’t play a Super Bowl in Chicago, Nashville, or Denver, but what about a conference championship game?”

It also would give the NFL three destination events to begin the calendar year for fans to pilgrimage to, providing the ability to buy tickets months in advance knowing where these semifinal games are going to be. It would give the chance for the league to book halftime shows and schedule a full week of programming that would generate revenue for the league and the host cities. Making this switch would definitely cheapen getting the top seed in each conference, but being the only teams to have a first-round bye should be enough of an incentive to compete all season for the best regular-season record.

Due to the pandemic in 2020, Major League Baseball held its Division Series, League Championship Series, and the World Series in neutral locations, but COVID restrictions including lowered seating capacities caused these environments to be lacking character. The AFC title game, however, would be played in front of a raucous, sold-out crowd in Atlanta in prime time, and the ATL would be bumping with activity in the days leading into that marquee matchup.

It’s quite possible that the NFL could stumble into an idea that works so well that it would be hard to not adopt moving forward. Don’t be surprised that if this Bills-Chiefs matchup happens, it could alter the course of football history and usher in the neutral conference championship game era.

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About The Author
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.