Saturday, May 10, 2014

On Draft Day(s)- is the NFL bloated?

As we enter day 3 of the first NFL Draft to take place in May, I can't help but wonder if it's gotten to be too much. I'm no fan of stretching the draft into a third day to begin with, and especially with two of those days being on Thursday and Friday night. To me it was a whole lot more fun when it was an all-day Saturday/Sunday thing, where you could have friends over and drink all day while ripping other teams' picks.

Yes, I know the NFL is king in American sports society, and I can't see anyone coming close to them in the near future. MLB seems to be off the radar, and even its playoffs take a back seat to football come October, and while the NBA is popular worldwide, it still isn't captivating the casual sports fan like it did 20 years ago, despite it being a golden age for talent. But it just seems like the league is more concerned with marketing and glitz and ratings than what made it great- THE GAME ITSELF.

Dallas Mavericks owner/ billionaire Mark Cuban touched on this in late March, predicting the NFL was "10 years from implosion", and saying that the league's new TV contract is leading to overexposure.
"Just watch. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way. I'm just telling you, when you've got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns on you. That's rule No. 1 of business."

Cuban was specifically referring to the NFL's recently expanding its television package. He considers it a poor business decision for the NFL, which consistently dominates TV ratings, to play games on days other than Sunday and Monday.

In February, the league announced a one-year deal with CBS and NFL Network to televise Thursday night games. CBS will air the games during the first eight weeks of the season, simulcasting them with NFL Network. The league's cable network will exclusively show six Thursday night games later in the season with CBS' top announcing tandem of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in the booth. NFL Network also will have a Saturday doubleheader in Week 16.....

"They're trying to take over every night of TV," Cuban said. "Initially, it'll be, 'Yeah, they're the biggest-rating thing that there is.' OK, Thursday, that's great, regardless of whether it impacts [the NBA] during that period when we cross over. Then if it gets Saturday, now you're impacting colleges. Now it's on four days a week.

"It's all football. At some point, the people get sick of it."
Cuban's obviously biased on this statement (he also thinks the NBA has yet to peak in popularity and growth), but I think his base point has merit. How much NFL is too much? The Thursday night games are generally subpar, both in the teams playing and in the level of play (due to less preparation time and recovery from the game played the previous Sunday). Greedhead owners and league officials are still holding out hope for an 18-game regular season and adding 2 or 4 more teams to the playoffs, despite the fact that the large numbers of injuries in the current 16-game season waters down the quality of play, and adding playoff teams and reducing byes for top performers in the regular season would make it more meaningless.

I also flash back to last year's Packer playoff game vs. the Niners, which was one of three wild-card games that struggled to sell out because season ticket holders were asked to pony up for renewals well ahead of time at inflated prices. In addition, the league scheduled the game in the late afternoon/ early evening on a day when weather forecasters were instructing Wisconsinites not to go outside. Far too often, the league has decided TV should be the deciding factor when it comes to scheduling games, leading to cold-weather teams playing night games in December, and diminishing the in-game experience. Add in the absurd and antiquated blackout rule in case teams don't sell their last nosebleed seats (something no other sports league has), and there is real danger of the league overestimating its value.

The Draft has been a similar experience this year. An extra 2 weeks of hype on NFL-friendly networks like ESPN has been insufferable from a fan's standpoint (what else can you talk about after a certain point? I can't watch), and it is now threatening to cut into off-season workouts that help rookies get accumulated to their new teams' systems. Plus, the four months between the end of the college football season and the draft is the longest of any major sport out there, and while it might help the league's plans to have the NFL be a year-round event, it also means there is a disconnect between what you remember from the college and pro seasons, and when the draft happens.

But I wouldn't count on the NFL changing the draft back to April, not after blowout ratings for Thursday's first round on ESPN and NFL Network (the fact that ESPN's ratings are 4 times higher is proof to me that the casual Neilsen family are idiots- NFL Network's coverage blows ESPN away). Some of that was due to the intrigue resulting from the Number 1 pick being unknown and the saga involving Johnny Manziel (too bad Dallas didn't take Johnny Football- it would have made the Cowboys a total train wreck in 2014), but if the NFL can artifically pump up Sweeps ratings for networks with these special events, you know it'll continue.

And those ratings indicate the NFL continues to ride high in America's consciousness. I just wonder when it reaches the point of saturation, and that point doesn't feel far away.

1 comment:

  1. Added to those difficulties, how will the increasing scrutiny of the sport's contribution to player's brain injuries, as well as the fact that parents are more and more keeping their children from participating due to fear of permanent injuries?