For years, NFL has been king. It is an entertainment giant that has dominated the media in the US for as long as I can remember. Not only the most popular sport but also the biggest draw in cable television. But this season has not been the boon that the NFL is accustomed to and there are some indications that people could tuning pro football out. The NFL used to be the cream of the crop but now it seems as though the product may be getting stale. Some have blamed the Colin Kaepernick national anthem protests for turning people off, but that firestorm seems to have calmed for the most part. Let’s look at a few realistic reasons for why people may be turning their backs on America’s favorite sport.
Too Much of a Good Thing
One of the NFL’s biggest problems is the over-saturation of the market with their product. Simply put, there is just too much damn football, too damn often. During the offseason, we get nearly nonstop media coverage. The league and its media juggernaut are constantly feeding us stories wherever they can find them. And manufacturing them out of thin air the minute that it seems like people might be taking their mind off of football. It’s like the league and those in charge think that people will somehow forget football during the spring and summer. Big football is like a clingy boyfriend who is scared that his way too hot girlfriend is getting bored with him. “Hey, whatcha thinkin’ bout?” I mean jeez, can we get some space or what? Such a turn off.
Keeping the fans engaged in the game, even when the games are not being played is one thing. I respect the fact that the NFL is huge and people want to know about their players and teams year round. But once the season starts, it gets even worse. Once upon a time, pro football was a special event that happened twice a week. The lion’s share of the games took place on Sunday, with the grand finale, the beloved weekly holiday of Monday Night Football.
Nowadays, we add Thursday games to the slate of weekly games. And the result is pretty awful. The Thursday games are routinely unwatchable. Not only is the play sloppy, but it increases the risk of injury for players. Having to play on Thursday after playing a game the previous Sunday is brutal for both fans and players alike. If I was running the player’s union, I would make this a big negotiation point when it came time to renew the CBA. It dilutes the product and puts people’s livelihood at risk. There simply isn’t enough time for the body to recover between Sunday and Thursday.
All of that adds up to a drop in quality of the fan experience. The NFL needs to reel itself in or it risks making a joke out of what was once a high-quality product. Chill out on the year round coverage and dial back the games to taking place on Sundays and Mondays only. There was a recent rumor that the league was going to explore the possibility of doing away with Thursday Night Football. The league came out and said that the rumor was false but I think it would be to the benefit of the game if they at least explored the concept. Do it for the fans, the players and the overall product.
I’ve touched before on just how bad the officiating in the NFL has become. Maybe it’s the advancements in coverage and instant replay but it seems like there are constantly game-altering blunders on the part of the officials. These blunders seem to be changing the outcome of games every single week. And this year has been exceptionally bad.
The NFL needs to do something about this immediately. If you ask me, it’s the single biggest factor contributing the the degradation of the product. When there is wild inconsistency from week-to-week, game-to-game and officiating crew to officiating crew, it’s time to do as much as you can to remove the human factor from that part of the game. And the league has the ability.
There needs to be widespread review-ability of every facet of the game. The NFL claims they are scared of slowing the game down too much, even though there are endless commercials that do more to ruin the viewing experience than actually getting the calls right ever could. We’re talking penalties, turnovers, missed calls, no calls, the whole nine yards. Get the calls right so that the people can be confident in the integrity of the sport. When there is such a wide spectrum of how games can be called, people like me over in Lionsfanville end up coming up with wild conspiracy theories about how the league is out to get us. I mean, how else can you explain that flag that got picked up by the refs in that 2014 wild card game in Dallas?
This next part is a little harder for me to wrap my head around. If you’ve watched NFL football regularly over the last decade or so, I think you can argue that the quality of the play on the field has gone down. Maybe it’s that the talent pool has gotten too spread out with the new teams in the league, but it seems like there are very few rock solid, fundamentally sound football teams and way more sloppy, undisciplined teams these days. Most of the organizations are fielding squads with tons of flaws that make tons of mistakes. This disparity between the haves (Patriots, Steelers, etc) and the have nots (Browns, Jaguars, etc) is bigger than ever. It seems that pro football needs its own version of Bernie Sanders to promote roster equality.
I have an interesting theory as to why the play might have gotten so much worse in recent years. Back in 2011, when the current collective bargaining agreement was approved by both owners and players, there were some new rules implemented in regards to how many full contact practices teams were allowed to have. The number of these full contact, padded practices during the season were greatly reduced. In addition, training camp two-a-day practices (a staple of football culture from high school all the way to the pros) were taken away completely.
With this loss of hard-hitting, full speed practices, coaches back in 2011 were concerned that defenses would suffer. It appears those fears were well founded, as sloppy tackling and lack of defensive chemistry are problems for many teams, especially in the first half of the season. There also seems to be variation in offensive chemistry for many teams week-to-week. It seems like these restrictions on practices is a good place to start pointing the finger.
The big reason that these new rules were implemented was concerns that all of these full contact practices were contributing to higher rates of player injury. But it doesn’t seem like having less practices has done anything to improve player safety. On the contrary, it seems as if major injuries are happening now more than ever. Could it be that the players’ bodies aren’t properly prepared for the beating that they take during games? They are essentially getting their bodies used to being hit in game, as opposed to in training camp. This CBA is good for another 5 years or so, and I find it hard to believe the players would ever allow the number of practices to rise again, but maybe they should consider it, for the health of the game and for their own personal health.
No one likes a tyrant
NFL owners around the country should perhaps begin looking at the man they have installed to run the league for the past decade. While Roger Goodell has done many good things for the NFL and made the owners a ton of money, he has also destroyed his own image. Players despise the tyrannical manner in which Goodell handles league business and player discipline. And it seems like most fans genuinely hate the guy, myself included. The deflategate Tom Brady witch hunt was the final straw and it seems almost inevitable that Goodell will be handed his walking papers sooner rather than later.
Roger Goodell’s self-imposed role as judge, jury and executioner in matters of player and team discipline has brought way too much negative publicity to the league. Hell, the Tom Brady thing almost went to the Supreme Court. That’s just ridiculous. While team owners should be grateful for what the commissioner has done for pro football as a brand and cash generating operation, the damage to the league’s image as a result of Goodell’s actions must also be taken into account.
At this point, any good business mind could make money for the NFL. People are tired of Goodell and so are the players. If the league really wants to get itself back on track, canning Roger Goodell should be the first move. Nobody likes a tyrant, especially not in the United States of America. After they bring down this despot, they can get to correcting all the other things I’ve mentioned. The NFL isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon, but ignore the warning signs at your peril. The owners need to get in front of this before it’s too late.
Save the NFL!