The only NFL game I went to was the season opener in 2006 when the Redskins faced the Minnesota Vikings. I remember the first play of the game that a special teams player tore his knee, John Hall shanked the game-winning kick, and my realization that pro football is not a great sport to watch live. That is where my desire of pro football is fading and it has decreased each year.
When Roger Goodell became commissioner and wanted to expand with more teams, playoff teams, games, and especially more money, that is where the soul of the NFL went away. The only thing is some have discovered the soul of the NFL was gone this season.
Let’s count the ways this was a bad year for Roger Goodell and the NFL:
- The Ray Rice incident
- The Adrian Peterson incident
- Trying to expand the regular season
- Fining people for not wearing approved gear
- Decline participation in youth football
- Dan Snyder
- The College Football Playoff
- Part-time referees
I could write a novel about each case, but one person is involved in all of this and that is Roger Goodell. If you know your commissioner timeline, you’ll see Goodell trying to one up his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, who kept the NFL steady after taking the reins from the architect of the modern NFL, Pete Rozelle. Goodell wanted to hit it big and create the NFL, which was already the biggest league in the U.S., to be the biggest league not only in the U.S., but in the world. If you look at this chart, it shows Goodell is doing a good job (Goodell became commissioner in 2006):
With the NFL revenues near $10 billion and network TV executives clamoring for it since live sports is the last bastion of broadcast television, the NFL are in a power position. What Goodell is operating is paying attention to short-term gains now and worry about the long-game later and he has 44 million reasons to do it.
I kept wondering why football has become the most popular sport in America? Here are the ones, I think, are contributing to their success:
- Gambling/fantasy football
- Great on Television
- It’s an American sport, while the other leagues are global
- Cold weather = people staying indoors
- A once-a-week event
I can’t pin the primary reason of why the NFL is king, but from all of those reasons, it’s likely each one contributes equally for its success. In addition, the NFL has made the Super Bowl not only the biggest sporting event of the year, but the biggest TV event of the year since it has literally everything: the game for sports fans, the halftime show for non-football fans, and the commercials to enjoy by everyone. While football is on top, is there something that can knock it down?
So far, the NFL has been immune of their trouble. It won’t be the other leagues because of the number of games they play (although all four leagues are at its healthiest). It won’t be because of lowered participation because people will bet and pick them in fantasy football anyway. What I think people need to pay attention to is the year 2021. That is where the CBA expires and the relationship between owners and players have been strained, at best and the relationship between Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director, DeMaurice Smith, have soured. It could be possible those two guys will be gone in 2021, but if the rate continues that the league is making record profits, the NFLPA could go on strike and with all this pent-up anger each year, they probably had enough. If Smith (or someone else) pinpoints why players need more money, better trust from owners, better precautions (independent medical staff, full-time refs), then he can convince the fans the owners need to do more. Although the NFL is popular, it’s average salary is the least paid (chalk that up to the 53-man roster), and their minimum base salary is the lowest of all the 4 major sports. People will say the NFL can replace the players with scrubs like they did in 1987, but with everything on the line with gambling, fantasy football, and the quality of play, people will be upset about the product and could leave the sport altogether.
The NFL fiasco reminds me of the MLB labor situation from 1972 to 1994 when baseball had four work stoppages at the time, culminating with the 1994 strike that cancelled the rest of the regular season, the postseason, and the World Series. During those 22 years, the players and owners didn’t trust one another and while the sport was healthy, the owners were preventing the players getting some of the additional money and the trust was broken. When they returned the following year, attendance, viewers, and revenues all went down. What saved baseball temporary was Cal Ripken’s consecutive games played streak, the rise of the Yankees dynasty, and the Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire home run chase (granted, it was fabricated by steroids, but they needed attention). Although the strike hurt the game in the short run (plus, the steroids scandal), the game did evolve:
- Wild card teams for more teams to get involved in the postseason
- Mega Regional TV deals
- Baseball-only ball parks (except Oakland and Tampa)
- MLB Advanced Media
This has led MLB catching up to the NFL and making $9 billion in revenues. In addition, owners and players will have labor peace until 2017 when their CBA expires, plus, the value of baseball teams have increased and so has player salaries. It’s a win for both owners and players. Could we see the same in the NFL?
Here’s the ironic thing: although I don’t like the NFL, I love college football, although I went to a college that didn’t have a football team. The reason: the atmosphere created by the fans. There are some NFL atmospheres that seems authentic (Green Bay, old RFK Stadium in D.C., Kansas City), but it is mostly manufactured (don’t tell me about Seattle’s 12th Man, since that was copied by Texas A&M). College football feels real because it feels like a community gathering with tailgating and singing their school anthems. The only college football game I went to was Army-Navy in 2011. Although the game was intriguing, what made the game were Army and Navy’s fans in the stands rooting on their team and what lies ahead after football for them. Although the NCAA is as guilty of trying to make a profit than the NFL, what makes college football fun are the traditions and the community. Hard to find that in the NFL.
What I think is happening, in the grand scheme of things, is Roger Goodell is a cheap skate. He’s trying to raise revenue, and at the same time, he’s trying not to pay for training to how players interact off the field, an independent medical staff, pension for retirement players, trying to keep sponsors happy, and hiding evidence that could be detrimental to the league. Goodell says he’s “protecting the shield.” That’s a funny way of protecting yourself and the owners.