NFL schedule makers didn't seek out a Chiefs game close to a Taylor Swift concert


Creating the NFL schedule is a complicated process that requires tens of thousands of computers coming up with countless possibilities over a process that lasts about four months.

There are several sometimes competing factors at play from keeping all of the television partners happy, to competitive balance for teams to stadium availability.

One variable that wasn’t considered, despite some wild internet conjecture, was making sure Travis Kelce and the Kansas City Chiefs had a game scheduled close in location to one of the tour spots for Taylor Swift.

“I saw a lot of conspiracy theorists talking about Kansas City at Buffalo middle of the season, right when Taylor’s playing Toronto,” Mike North, the NFL’s vice president for broadcast planning, said Thursday. “That one definitely did not hit our radar screen.”

The Chiefs have emerged in recent years as one of the NFL’s top television draws thanks to quarterback Patrick Mahomes leading them to three Super Bowl titles in the past five seasons and increased even more last season when Swift attended several games to watch her boyfriend, Kelce.

That led to doling out Kansas City games to each of the NFL’s major television partners. CBS got at least seven of the games in the schedule released Wednesday as the traditional home of Sunday afternoon AFC games with the Week 18 game still available. NBC also got four games in prime time, including the Thursday night opener against Baltimore, a pair of Sunday night games and a Saturday night game in Week 16.

The Chiefs are playing Houston that Saturday because they were also selected to play the following Wednesday on Christmas on Netflix against Pittsburgh.

Kansas City also is playing in the second annual Black Friday game on Amazon Prime Video the day after Thanksgiving and will have perhaps its most anticipated game of the season on Fox in a Super Bowl rematch against San Francisco in Week 7.

“They’re Cowboys-level assets right now,” North said. “Knowing that everybody’s going to get a certain number of them. … Was it perfect? Was everybody over the moon? Maybe not. Maybe Fox was. But it’s a narrow needle to thread.”

The process of building the schedule began as soon as the 2023 season ended and the opponents for each team and location of each game was locked into place.

The league has evolved from building the schedule by hand to using a few computers to the current cloud computing model that spits out more possible schedules than any human can sift through.

The final version came out early last Sunday morning and was given final approval by commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday.

“It’s an incredibly challenging puzzle,” said Hans Schroeder, the league’s executive vice president of media distribution. “You’re thinking about competitive equality, how we solve for all our media partners, team elements, travel, how we solve for more windows on more continents as we play more. But most importantly, how do we create the best schedule for our fans. If there was ever sort of a needle in a haystack-type project, this is it.”

The schedule makers have been given more flexibility in recent years with teams not required to play a prime-time game, teams able to play multiple short-week Thursday games and a loosening of TV rules that allow some traditional NFC games to be aired on CBS and AFC games to go to Fox on Sunday afternoons.

This allowed the league to give CBS its first game between NFC East rivals Dallas and Philadelphia in Week 10 since the 1993 season before the network lost the NFC rights to Fox.

Prime-time games ranged from a high of six for San Francisco, the New York Jets and Dallas to none for Carolina, and just one for New England, Tennessee, Las Vegas, Arizona and Indianapolis.

“From a scheduling perspective teams play their way into prime (time),” Schroeder said. “They play their way into bigger windows.”

The Jets and Cincinnati (five prime-time games) were the only teams that got at least five prime-time games that missed the playoffs last season, but the expected returns to health for QBs Aaron Rodgers and Joe Burrow made them attractive candidates.

New York is scheduled for six prime-time games in the first 11 weeks, with another early morning national window for a game in London against Minnesota in Week 5.

“That’s an awful lot of prime-time games early in the season. But obviously I feel like the Jets kind of owe us one,” North said. “When we had this conversation a year ago, we were all, all of us, all-in on the Jets. For that guy to last for only four plays was disheartening for many of us. … Certainly our broadcast partners, when they came to us early in the process, talking about what storylines to focus on early in the season, obviously, Aaron Rodgers’ return was a key one for everybody.”

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