Yes I know this topic has been beaten to death over the last couple of months. But I’m not here to talk about silly things like the elections or millennials or any dumb excuses like that. I’m here to talk about myself. As a man who went from watching every game every week, and participating in an ungodly amount of fantasy activities (teams, dailies, pick ems, you name it), to somebody who maybe pays attention to 1 game a week. I’m here to talk about what made me fall off, and how you can get me back.
What Exactly is the NFL?
The obvious answer is “They’re the football people. They run the football”. But this isn’t a public service that they just do for everyone. They’re a business who is out there to make money. An organization by the way, who is so big, you have to go to the second page of search results to find their Wikipedia page. And while Roger Goodell may be the face of the league, and ultimately the one in charge of it, he isn’t the league. The league is composed of 32 franchises, who elect a commissioner, vote on changes, and collect the profits. Goodell is just the one who is elected to collect a paycheck, and maximize profits for the franchise owners.
How does the NFL Make Money?
While each individual owner is allowed to make money off their teams through things like ticket sales, and team specific retail stores, the vast majority of the money the owners make is off of their share of the television deals.The NFL as a league, has much more negotiating power with the networks than any individual team does (IE the NFL is worth more than 32 times what the Jaguars is worth). Goodell and his team every few years renegotiate the contract with the networks. The networks pay for the rights to air these games, based on the projected revenue they will make off of advertisement deals they can make.
The perfect sport for TV
Football has a lot of stops in play, which allows the commentators to go through replay, or slip in a quick ad while the team is in the huddle. The NFL also has officials review a lot of the plays, which allows for commercial breaks, on top of all the commercial breaks that happen every time possession of the ball changes teams.Each team also only plays once a week, and only has 16 games a season. This means that every game is way more important than it is for teams in other leagues.
NFL all day, every day
For the last couple of decades, we’ve seen the NFL permeate outside of the weekly games. We’ve seen additional prime time games come into existence, as well as the rise of the NFL Network and NFL social media. This means that even if there isn’t a game going on, you can always watch some commentary outside of the typical pregame/post game or watch a documentary on a great player you never got to watch play. And with the popularity of fantasy football, you have a reason to watch developing news, or sign up for every apps alerts.
Why Rating declines are like a plague
It’s not so bad at first. A couple million fewer people watch Sunday Night Football, big deal. There’s still 10 times that number still watching, so ad space is still selling, so television contracts can still be negotiated even higher. But the NFL got to where it is, because they want every single person they can get their hands on. Hardcore football fans complain about pop stars performing during half time, or even how much the league promotes fantasy sports. But the fact of the matter is that those types of things have turned casual fans hardcore, and brought in previously uninterested parties as casual fans. The hardcore fans will always stay, but the casual fans are the ones who make up the bulk of the television audience, and thus the NFL’s revenue. If the game isn’t entertaining for casual fans, you will never make money.
Why are the ratings down?
- Anytime this question comes up, the first answer is always “the product on the field isn’t as good”. And of course this is highly subjective, but the fact that so many people feel that way makes it undeniable. Some of the most popular complaints are all the reviews, commercial breaks, and penalties slowing down the game, both making it less entertaining to watch, and a longer commitment.
- This is mostly a complaint by the hardcore fans, who want to watch a game of football. For the casual fans who use football as a social endeavor, this gives them a chance to order another drink, or check their fantasy lineups, or text their friend who knows more about football asking why there’s a penalty on that play. The stoppages in play give the casual fan a break, and a chance to collect their bearings, making it more enjoyable or them, and an easier commitment for them. And again…the casual fans outnumber the hardcore fans, so they’re more important here. And as mentioned before, allots the networks a chance to squeeze in another ad or two. So you need to review every fumble to see if the player was down by contact before he dropped the ball.
- But you can’t completely alienate your hardcore fan base. They’re part of the reason your casual fan base is as big as it is. Appealing to both fan bases is more of an art than a science. These penalties and reviews also often heavily favor the offenses, and while defense may win championships, offenses win viewership. So if a penalty is minor, and will impede the flow of the game, let it go. If a player is close to the line, give it to him. The amount of star power you would make off of DeAndre Hopkins getting a long TD is way more valuable in the long run than whatever commercial you played while the play is under review.
- Another argument that always comes up is he parity/over saturation of the league. What this means is that any given week there are 3 prime time games you have to watch, and then a couple of choices on that 1/4:25 time slot, and in certain regions there’s usually only one option at 4:25. That means that the majority of the time, you only have one option of game, and if it sucks, you’re gonna flip to something non NFL related. And the way the league is right now, there’s really only a few good teams out there, a few absolutely terrible teams, and a lot of mediocre teams that are very hit or miss. This means that we’re very often watching a team beat up on a team much worse than them, and this can only be entertaining for so long.
- The NFL has more teams, and more players per team than any other league. It also has the highest injury rate, leading players to retire before their fully developed due to a direct injury, or voluntarily retire in their prime to avoid the former. This pairing just leads to a really shallow talent pool.
- It’s time for the NFL to implement a farm system. While most 1st round talents will most likely be starters on the pro team still, you can send those 4th-7th round talents to the farm team. They can generate a little extra revenue, while developing their skills in a less injury prone environment. That 4th round LB with 3 years of extra playing time may not have a spot in your starting lineup. In the short-term it will cut your talent pool in half, but it will be cutting the lower half out. In a few years, they’ll be back in the league, playing better, and longer, and will help develop a deeper talent pool in the long-term.
- A problem facing the NFL that no one is talking about is the plethora of competition the NFL is facing. With the technology we have today, there’s an infinite amount of entertainment options available.
- If I start a game, and it sucks, I switch to whatever TV show I’m trying to catch up on at halftime. My dad will finish the game, but do something else on his tablet while it’s on. My grandfather will sit through the tragedy. My younger brothers never started the game, instead opting for an experience they knew they would like from the get go.
- The unpredictability of a game is by far its biggest appeal. We watch sports to see what will happen, and who will win. But whether or not it’s competitive should not be what is unpredictable. The younger a person is, and the less ingrained in their DNA sports are, the less likely they are to even give it a shot in the first place.
- The NFL being a casual sport to watch with a lot of stoppages definitely helps the advertisers, but it can hurt the fans. It makes it easier to find an exit point if you’re bored. The solution is to give me something to do when I get bored. Red Zone is a God send. When one game gets boring, whoop you’re watching another game that’s more exciting. It’s constant hours upon hours of highlight worthy action. We as a society have grown to really only want the highlights anyways. Most people don’t care about seeing every 2 yard run. We want to see first downs, touch downs, and turnovers. Prime time games are a great thing to sell as an idea to a network, but they’re too much of a risk as a product. You are putting all your eggs into one basket, months before you know how either of those teams will be. You can promote whatever headline you want, but the fact of the matter is that certain teams just don’t deserve to be in prime time, because they can’t be trusted to put on a good show. Prime time games also lose their value, when the majority of the games you watch are prime time games. And for people on the east coast, that 8:30 start time is a killer on a work night, and is a huge dissuasion from even starting the game.
- Go back to 1 prime time game a week. Sell that to the network, that they’re getting the only nationally televised game. Then you can play another game or two in an unopposed time slot on your network. Then let Red Zone have everything else. Or better yet, sell your own Red Zone like product. Many young people don’t have cable because it costs way too much, and thus these network games don’t work for the younger generation. But charge me $10/month for the NFL app that I can hook up to my television, and give me every game, every network show episode, everything. The amount of people you could get to pay $10/month to watch football would alone be a fortune. Plus you can keep the ad revenue you sell yourself, if you chose to do that.