In the NFL, the Games Must Go On

Most CIOs will dodge a bullet in the new millennium, since the first two days of 2000 fall on a weekend. But some entities still work weekends – for instance, the National Football League. Like any prudent organization, the NFL has given a lot of thought to Y2K. Of course, if you reaped about US$130 million in TV revenues in a single week, you’d pay attention, too.

In October 1998, the NFL asked each team to survey its critical third parties involved in putting on a football game. The goal was to find out if there was any possibility of a Y2K glitch, whether in the scoreboard or concessions or electrical power. The response was that there is no reason not to go forward with the games in the first week of 2000, according to Jodi Balsam, NFL counsel for operations and litigation in New York City, who headed the league’s Y2K preparation. (An interesting fact: With the exception of the games that were cancelled during player strikes in 1982 and 1987, the NFL has never cancelled a regular season or championship football game prior to kickoff.)

Actually, the NFL had already started worrying about the first weekend of 2000 back in 1997, but not for the reason you might suspect. Often, the first weekend of a new year means NFL post-season wild-card games. However, roughly every seven years, give or take a leap year or two, New Year’s Day falls on a Saturday. To avoid conflicts with the television networks – some of which have contracted to broadcast traditional college bowl games as well as wild-card games – the NFL pushed the start of the 1999 season ahead one week.

But that’s also why you’ve got games in venues that may seem odd if you’re worried about Y2K affecting utilities and civic services such as snow removal. Why in the world would the Arizona Cardinals be playing in Green Bay Jan. 2? For the same reason Miami is playing in Washington, Tampa Bay is playing in Chicago and San Diego is playing in Denver. Those teams’ home venues are the sites of college bowl games that weekend.

But Balsam is confident, based on feedback from teams, that Jan. 2 will come off without a hitch. In fact, the only concession the NFL has made to Y2K is telling visiting teams to fly Friday, Dec. 31, in order to avoid any air-travel glitches. The only exception: The San Francisco 49ers are permitted to fly to Atlanta Sunday, Jan. 2, for their Monday night game.