For the first time in recent memory, television ratings for the National Footall League are down. There are differing lines of thought as to why this is the case for the most popular league in the United States.
The league’s belief is that consumers are watching footballthrough other mediums and that not everyone has cable subscriptions anymore, so a drop would be logical. I however am inclined to believe it is a perfect storm of unfavorable conditions for the league.
The NFL often boasts that the league is so great because of the parity within it. This is the “any given Sunday” mentality that persists, meaning that any team can win any week, and that the past games don’t affect that game. But I think it’s for another reason: There is only one team that is actually any good.
The schedule for this past week’s games was filled with just outright horrendous match-ups. The Chicago Bears played the Jacksonville Jaguars in quite possibly the worst matchup we’ve seen to this point. Sunday Night Football, which is usually the best matchup of the week, featured the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans. To say that game was painful to watch would be an understatement. Andrew Luck ran for his life trying to lead a team of scraps past Houston while Houston completely failed to move the needle on the excitement radar.
The reason why so many teams in the league just aren’t good is also up for debate. I’ve heard the argument that since teams don’t tackle during practice, players mentally aren’t preparing for games properly anymore. Not tackling during practice does limit the potential for concussions, but it comes at the cost of players not being conditioned for hitting during the actual game.
Another factor is the way the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association is structured. The way the collective bargaining agreement is structured, players coming out of college have a maximum salary they can be offered, based on where they were drafted. In a salary cap sport, having as much cheap talent as possible is the best way to construct a roster. A salary cap is a measure of how much money a team is paying to players; each player has a “cap hit” which takes away from that number. Traditionally, a team likes to keep around a million dollars to sign players in emergency situations like injuries.
In keeping the young talent low-priced, the league has gotten younger at large, which is definitely part of the problem. Younger players are just not as experienced as veterans are and are more prone to mistakes. Veterans are more expensive but their experience is noticeable.
Now, do I think the league is in long term trouble? Over $9 billion in revenue last year says no. Do I think the league has a collection of small issues that if left unchecked could fester into real damage? Absolutely.
The number of quality teams is down, and the concussion issue needs some sort of long term planning from the league. Long term medical care needs to be offfered because the current plan is inadequate. The NFL rewards the number of active seasons players perform in both their pension and 401k plan, but injuries and aging seasons are often cut short, and inflation eats away at the value of those pension dollars each year.
The commissioner is a public relations nightmare, botching the Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson situations and being disliked by players. The game broadcasts are too long, the dreaded touchdown, review touchdown, commercial during review, extra point, commercial kick off, commercial sequence is foolish and needs to be stopped. Thursday Night Football is outright painful to watch every week. Teams have too little time to rest and prepare leading up to the game. Four days is a quick turn around. One could even argue there are too many teams and too little talent.
And maybe, just maybe, let the boys tackle during practice and simulate game conditions. The league is by far the most popular in the United States, and if they correct the small problems, it would stay that way for a long time.
And maybe if there were more teams that played well aside from the Patriots, it’d do the rest of the country, aside from New England, a big favor.