The National Football League said Tuesday that it would expand the coming season to 17 games for the first time, shortening the exhibition schedule to three games.
In addition, all 32 NFL teams will play at least one game internationally over an eight-year period, beginning in 2022.
The extra game, approved in principle during collective bargaining prior to the 2020 season, is the first change in the regular-season slate since it went from 14 games with six exhibition games to 16 games and four preseason contests in 1978.
The final agreement between the NFL owners and NFL Players Association was concluded Tuesday, and the league’s owners approved the measure by vote during a virtual meeting.
“This is a monumental moment in NFL history,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “The CBA with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans. And one of the benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world.”
Goodell also said the league plans to play games this fall with stadiums at full capacity.
The 17th game will feature teams from opposing conferences that finished in the same place within their division the previous season. The AFC was determined to be the home conference for that game in 2021, the NFL said in a release.
The official NFL schedule for this coming season is expected to be announced later in the spring.
The new schedule allows for expanded international play, focusing initially on Canada, Europe, Mexico, South America and the United Kingdom. In addition, clubs can continue to voluntarily play “home games” internationally, up to four each year.