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NFL owners might make up one of the richest cliques in the world, but they’re all shuttering at the possibility of losing $100 million in revenue this season. That’s what every team would deal with if the NFL decides to play its season without fans in the stands. Could this lead to owners pushing to delay the start of the 2020 season?

The NFL schedule is set to release Thursday night

With all the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and when professional sports will return in America, the NFL is still set to release its 2020 schedule this Thursday night. Every team knows who they will play, but they will find out when this week.

The NFL is supposed to kick off on Sept. 10, but there’s been speculation that the league will have to delay the start of the season. Some states are still barely allowing people out of their houses, so hosting thousands of fans in every stadium four months from now seems unlikely.

It’s possible the NFL could begin on time with no fans in attendance, but owners will push back against that plan. For one, the economic impact would be massive, but the possible ramifications stretch much further than that.

NFL owners will push to have fans in the stands by any means

Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated wrote about the league’s options for the 2020 season, and he said owners need fans in the stands. He spoke to multiple team executives, and they all echoed the same sentiment.

“Could the NFL move its schedule back, too? I don’t think it’s crazy to consider,” Breer said. “Two teams estimated to me that, on average, NFL clubs would lose about $100 million apiece in local revenue if the season was played without fans in the stands.”

A few NFL owners are worth billions of dollars, but that doesn’t mean they’re willing to throw away $100 million. Breer found that most owners would rather push the start date back to ensure fans will be present all season.

“So when I asked if, given the choice, those in charge would rather start Sept. 1 without fans or Nov. 1 with them, one NFC team exec didn’t mince words: ‘I don’t think it’s even a question. If you could play a full season with fans, I don’t see how you don’t go that way. The economic impact is too major. If it’s possible to play it with fans by pushing it back, I don’t even see what we’d be discussing.'”

Playing a season without fans could have a larger impact in the future

If the NFL decides to play the 2020 season without fans, it will cause more than just economic loss in the short term. Some executives believe fans will stop coming to games in the future if they realize it’s easier and cheaper to watch games at home.

“Losing fans at games for a year could have an impact past 2020, in how fans used to going to games would have old habits broken, and may realize it’s easier to stay home and watch from there,” Breer said.

The NFL has pondered many alternatives to starting the season on time. Shortening the season, spacing fans out in the stadium, or delaying the start of the season are all options that have been discussed. Either way, team owners want fans in the seats, and they’ll do anything to make it happen in 2020.