Thursday, November 10, 2016

The NFL and the wall

Maybe Mark Cuban was right. The brash billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks predicted the mighty NFL was heading towards a fall. It's just a matter of time, he said. Oversaturating the market with any product will eventually come back to bite the company.

True, it's hard to tell right now. No one doubts the NFL remains the gorilla in the room of American professional sports. But there are signs.

The league's venture into extending itself into Europe crashed and burned. While the occasional game in London is received with mixed reviews, it's probably fair to say the Brits view American football as more of a novelty -- not to be taken seriously. They're much more into futbol, as in soccer. Different strokes.

Stateside, the NFL may have hit the wall in a couple different ways. Though it added Monday Night Football, a huge success, over four decades ago -- Thursday night games on their own network haven't enjoyed the same ratings.

And for whatever reason, the programming this year on nationally televised games has left a lot to be desired. Too many games between bad teams. Fans in one part of the country would likely tune into a game between two contenders from other regions, but only the hard core junkies find interest in watching a couple also-rans. Especially with typically at least a few hundred other channels to choose from.

Some, if not most of the blame can be laid at the feet of the league itself. There are teams that are good year after year. The Patriots' standard of excellence comes to mind. The Packers go up and down a bit, but they're never terrible. Same with the Cowboys. They've known the depths in the past -- but never for long. It just isn't tolerated in Big D.

Others like, say, Jacksonville and Detroit, have earned the reputation of pretty much being perennial losers. Nobody in Peoria or Boise wants to see those teams play.

It's also true that some teams overachieve expectations every year, while others do the opposite. The Oakland Raiders are going great guns, while the Carolina Panthers seem to have tanked.

So scheduling games before the season even starts for Monday and Thursday night broadcasts is a bit of a crapshoot. It certainly makes sense that the networks want as many viewers as they can get -- hence decent teams -- hence bigger bang for advertising bucks -- the lifeblood of TV.

But everybody, and I mean everybody knew the Cleveland Browns were going to be terrible this year -- with or without Johnny Manzeil -- turns out without. As good as the world champion Cavaliers and just barely fell short Indians have been in Cleveland -- the Browns are just -- that -- bad.

So why, tell me why, would the powers that be schedule the Brownies for a Thursday night game? Sure enough, they got trashed again to go to 0-10. A gawd-awful display of football.

It's things like this that have caused the TV ratings for the NFL to swoon this year. They're down across the board -- way down.

Not that long ago, NASCAR racing was a super-hot item. These days we see a lot of empty seats at many tracks while the race is going on. Could the same thing happen to the NFL? After all, NASCAR only has one feature race a week, while the NFL typically has 14-16 games, counting the bye weeks. True, there's more local interest in each NFL team, but still, the product is diluted across the spectrum. Putting bad teams on national TV would be like NASCAR running a race in which none of the drivers and their cars have ever finished higher than 10th before. Who would want to watch that?

The league, and especially Commissioner Roger Goodell and his merry band of enforcers, have shot themselves in the foot repeatedly with some of their heavy handed -- and misguided -- tactics in recent years regarding player discipline, rules, and regulations.

And now they're going to force feed us the Cleveland Browns? Really? That's like going to a fancy steak house only to discover the only thing they're serving that night is leftover corn beef hash. Would you sit there and eat it anyway, or get up and walk out? To boot, the Thursday night game typically features sub-par announcers and analysts. Throw in an ugly surly waitress at that steak/hash house and the decision likely gets easier.

Idle thought. One of the sideline reporters for that game was named Heather Cox. If we parse her name out -- Heat her Cox -- it takes on a whole new dimension indeed. And a bit scary at that.

Nevertheless, the NFL has grown into "too big to fail" status, even with all their miscues. Right?

Here's hoping the good Mr. Cuban is wrong on this one. No way does the NFL ever fold.

Then again, consider what happened in the Presidential election just a couple days ago. Who saw THAT coming?

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