Some of you won’t like this column.
I don’t like this column. As a business owner the subject matter affects me – negatively.
But the truth is the truth.
The NFL as we’ve known it and loved it, is dying.
Let’s start with the quality of play on the field. Can anyone say that it has improved in any meaningful way? I’m sure most would agree that the game has deteriorated.
There was a time, probably like many of you, when I cherished football Sundays and couldn’t get enough NFL football. One o’clock games gave way to 4 o’clock which then handed the action off to the featured game of the week on Sunday night.
I can barely make it through an NFL game that doesn’t involve the Ravens.
The stoppages in play are nauseating, exacerbated by opportunistic TV producers who pounce on any chance to sell another ad.
THERE’S A FLAG ON THE FIELD!
Penalties are on the rise at an alarming rate, many of which don’t even affect the outcome of a play. Anyone else sick of seeing a ticky-tacky illegal chuck on the opposite side of the field that negates a positive play?
The game officials have become the show instead of the athletes.
That’s not why we tune in!
And I don’t blame the officials, at times, as much as I blame the league. Why should we expect excellence from part-time employees who are generally knocking on the door of retirement and can’t keep up with the accelerating speed of the game? It’s like asking a Pinto to keep up with a fleet Ferraris.
Making matters worse the NFL’s competition committee is continually tweaking the rulebook to the point where the officials don’t know if they’re coming or going. Let’s call it paralysis by analysis. They just begin to adjust to one season’s new rules only to have new ones thrown at them the following season.
Now as you are aware, the league’s tinkering with the rules has to a large extent centered upon the safety of the players. Yet injuries seem to be at epidemic levels. The attention to safety has diminished the physicality of the game and that is what attracted many fans to the game in the first place.
It has rendered enforcers like Bernard Pollard obsolete. And for fans here in the Land of Pleasant Living the rules changes have forever altered what was once the best rivalry in the NFL. The brawls between the Ravens and the Steelers are a thing of the past. You will never ever again see the violence on the gridiron that we enjoyed during the 2008 AFC Championship Game.
It may still be a heated rivalry but it will never be as intense. The wussification of the NFL just won’t allow it.
At the same time all of the rules are adopted to protect players, the league chooses to play every Thursday. The NFL doesn’t care if it isn’t in the players’ best interest to play on three days rest as long they can make a buck. They don’t care that more and more injuries are caused by artificial surfaces as long as the stadiums can be used for other moneymaking events that such surfaces enable.
Are we sure the league is genuinely concerned about safety?
Or are they just responding in a politically correct way to stave off financial setbacks triggered by things such as the retired players suits against the league for their physical, emotional and mental ailments?
Some believe that injuries and head trauma are simply the occupational hazards of an NFL player. In exchange for the handsome paycheck the players understand the assumption of risk. I get that.
But as the movie Concussion, set for a Christmas Day release will reveal, the league hasn’t exactly been forthcoming as it relates to the long-term effects of concussions. They’ve been accused of failing to share information regarding occupational risks of the NFL. It’s akin to steel mills concealing the hazards associated with plant carcinogens.
Concussion can potentially blow a gaping hole into the side of the NFL’s seemingly impenetrable vessel. Not only could the movie cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars, it could also lead to more rules that serve to further soften the game AND it might persuade parents to steer their children away from football which could dilute the future pool of talent for the league.
You have to wonder if the league is strong enough to sustain its level of success with these threats and the eroding levels of entertainment value.
Some games are already barely watchable, particularly Thursday Night games featuring the league’s newest gadget – monochromatic uniforms. League officials will tell you that the TV viewing numbers suggest the game is as popular as ever. I’m not buying that for one nanosecond.
The game within the game keeps the NFL numbers up.
That game, is fantasy football.
Fantasy footballers will watch a 42-3 game to the bitter end if they have an active player on the field. And the league is feeding this beast.
Stadiums are now equipped with Wi-Fi so that fans can access the Internet more efficiently from their seats. That may sound like a convenient creature comfort but it takes away from fans’ attentiveness to the game. Fewer fans are cheering and the last time I checked it’s tough to clap with a smartphone in your hand.
The stoppages, weaker product and crowds that aren’t as intense, drain the fan experience and make it more difficult to justify the climbing costs of an already expensive live sporting event.
On the flip side stoppages and bad execution combined with the fantasy football world the NFL now lives in, help drive fans to the Red Zone channel where host Scott Hanson continually reminds viewers that they are commercial free.
How is it that the NFL makes the lion’s share of its money?
If I’m an ad exec, I’m concerned about paying the hefty fees to promote products and services via NFL platforms particularly when the league itself promotes the commercial free nature of the NFL’s very own channel (Red Zone).
So let’s summarize a few serious issues staring NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the face.
• Possible decline in TV ad revenues
• Weakened demand for tickets
• Terrible officiating
• Over officiating
• Plethora of injuries
• Potentially damaging law suits
The last one is a doozy.
Concussion could force the league to dig much, much deeper than they anticipated into their swelling coffers in order to somehow make the retired players association and their constituents whole.
The denials, the cover-ups, the headaches for Goodell.
It’s enough to put The Commish into the concussion protocol and possibly the unemployment line.
Someone will have to take the fall and Goodell would clearly be a person of interest.