The NFL Preempted

by John Delach

Timing is everything and mine couldn’t be worse. Modern surveillance strikes again. Thanks to an Atlantic City elevator camera, I inadvertently became part of Roger Goodell and his lieutenant’s three-ring circus at 345 Park Avenue. I joined the party watching the protectors of the NFL shield commit one PR blunder after another attracting the an army of wags, talking heads, scribes, self-serving special interest groups and well-compromised politicians, all going after Goodell’s $44 million ass. In the process, these fools, jokers and scalawags managed to waylay my little piece. A pox on them all, but I will persevere!


In Part 1, we left off with the creation of the greatest show on earth, the super bowl.


When the NFL and AFL merged creating the super bowl, television money flowed into the league’s coffers like never before. But wait a minute, wait a minute, “Ladies and gentlemen, kids of all ages; you ain’t seen nothing yet.” Sure revenue soared but this was still chicken feed. It took the growth of cable and the NFL playing one network against the other to change the revenue landscape. The networks didn’t like it and CBS was the first to shout, “No mas!”


No mas? Not exactly. Adios CBS. Those games went to FOX, then the new kid on the block, at a price here-to-fore unimaginable. And what happened to CBS? Why their Sunday night ratings went straight down the toilet bowl; without pro football as a lead in they had nothing.


Next time the contracts came up, CBS bit down hard and outbid NBC for its games. Now, guess what happened to NBC’s Sunday night ratings; crapper city!


Finally the Commissioners, first in the guise of Paul Tagliabue and then Roger Goodell, decreed that each penitent would be able to contribute to the league as the commissioner saw fit. And so it came to pass that Fox was granted the National Football Conference (NFC) and, CBS, the American Football Conference (AFC). NBC earned the rights for Sunday nights, deemed “Football Night in America” and ESPN (representing their parent, ABC) was granted Monday Night Football.


“Further,” spoketh the Commissioner, “From this day forth, I shall establish a new and separate entity that I will use to keep you bastards honest and I shall call it ‘The NFL Network.’ And it shall take games away from thee as I see fit and you will like it.”


And the networks all replied “Amen,” because the Commissioner was great and his product was the bounty that they needed and he alone spread it across the wave lengths.


That is why the networks are shelling out $27.9 billion to broadcast the NFL games for eight years. But Goodell is on a quest to double the league’s revenue by 2027. As a first step, he signed up an eager CBS to co-broadcast Thursday night games for one year with the NFL Network at no cost to the league increasing his network’s revenue while CBS pays a price to broadcast these additional games. Hello, first he took the games away from the networks and now he sells them back? W.T.F!


Going forward, he plans to beat down the opposition from players and fans to add two more games to the regular season, increase the number of playoff games and take the NFL world-wide. Step right up…


And NFL owners love it. Witness the recent bidding war to buy the Buffalo Bills. Forbes had estimated the worth of the Bills at $875 million. The team sold for $1.2 billion!


But what of the fate of the unwashed, loyal season ticket holders and other fans who attend the games in person? Remember when every game began at 1 PM. Ah, those 1 PM starts, cool crisp autumn afternoons; the kind of day when you sniffed the air and declared it to be “Football weather?” Fuhgeddabouit!


The regular season can end on December 31st and most of the playoff games that occupy three weekends in January start in late afternoon or at night.


Still, television viewer ship continues to soar, as fans stay home to enjoy a plethora of games, in the warmth and comfort of their living rooms with a toilet nearby. They consume their own food and beer while viewing games on their HD and 3D televisions or watch that most wonderful of things, the NFL Red Zone, that shows every scoring play from every game.


How do you lure them to cold parking lots and stadiums where Canadian Clippers roar starting in late November? Why should they suffer traffic jams, $120 tickets, $20 parking and outrageous concession prices? Answer, the NFL is planning an electronic revolution, closed circuit apps, real time information on games in progress, fantasy league statistics and all kinds of interactive features. Just bring your smart phone and tablet and you too can be part of the elite.


What happened to watching the game? Me thinks there is a snake oil salesman in the house. Picture if you will the faithful flocking to Met Life Stadium in late December and January when that cold-cold zephyr we call the Hawk  makes his rounds, unimpeded, roars into the parking lots and the stands. Feet and ears go first so how will you go interactive with frozen fingers? Ah, welcome to the new NFL Experience.


But in the end, all of this is not what keeps the commish awake at night. A new demographic force is at work, a force that may end the absolute dominance that the NFL is in our culture. Trust me, it is not soccer, the long-time Progressives’ solution to the violence of football. Neither is it some alternative half-ass winter sport.


It is not the so-called Ray Rice cover-up, other domestic violence issues, perceived bullying, head injuries, thugs on and off the field, the “Redskins” name or homophobia. All of these are solvable distractions that are social media issues, not fan issues.


It has been said that professional football and television have the perfect marriage. But the pigskin has been on top of its electronic mate so long that TV is feeling blue. What if a sexy new kid arrived with growing revenue?  Could TV begin to lose its attraction for the game as it snuggles more closely to this latest sophisticated electronic lover? Oh, my, oh my. As it is, there is this curious phenomenon catching fire, “the E-sports generation.”


Witness, this from the NY Times: “Having already upended the entertainment world, global revenue for (electronic) games is $20 billion higher than the music industry and is chasing the movie business…” The same article reported that 73,000 “gamers”   attended a four-day tournament in Katowice, Poland in March. Last October, 8.5 million gamers streamed the championship of a tournament called, League of Legends. This is more people than watched the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals. Granted, E-sports will have its growing pains and setbacks as gaming manufactures, systems and venues come and go. Sounds like professional football back in the day.


But, if TV executives believe gamers are the future, they will swarm to their sport and shower them with undivided attention. The future of the spigot that feeds the NFL’s growth will be reduced to a trickle forcing football to retrench, rejoining the ranks of baseball, basketball and hockey as just another game. And TV will think nothing more about the NFL than they did about other sports they cast by the wayside, sports like professional wrestling, boxing and horse racing.


O.M.G. could this be the end of Western Civilization as we know it is? Naw, but at least they won’t have Goodell to kick around any longer.