The National Football League sneezes and it coughs up tens of millions of dollars. The moneymaker that is the National Football League kicks off its 97th season tonight, when the defending Super Bowl Champions, the Denver Broncos, take on the Carolina Panthers.
The NFL is as popular as ever. Last year, 205 million Americans watched at least one NFL game, representing 70 percent of the potential TV viewers in America, dwarfing viewership for any other type of programming.
While exciting as it is to have football back, I found myself wondering if there is anything that could derail the behemoth that the NFL has become? I can’t think of much. However, I’m finding that the NFL seems to invent new and creative ways to upset its fan base.
Here’s a few instances:
–Costs. When the Philadelphia Eagles or Dallas Cowboys or any home team for that matter scores, the home stadium should play “Money, money, money.” A sports information publisher that looks at stadium costs reported the average price for a non-premium seat at an NFL game cost more than $90. Throw in seating licenses, parking fees, food prices, team gear and you’re looking at a small fortune. You could send a kid to a private school for that money and the prices are only going up.
–Player behavior. The NFL used to worry about players showing up on the police blotter. Reckless driving, barroom fights, DUIs, sadly these are all nothing now. Football players increasingly have been in the news for assaults. A San Francisco 49er fullback Bruce Miller was cut from the team this week after he was arrested trying to get into a hotel room that was not his. He allegedly attacked two men in the room and was arrested after fleeing the scene. Last year, Miller was arrested on spousal battery charges, but pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor disturbing the peace charge when his fiancé said there was no physical contact. Miller is certainly no star, but there seem to be more and more of these stories in the news. Now it could just be anecdotal, but fans today are having a tough time … well, being fans of their favorite teams.
And then there’s player behavior on the field too. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has the constitutional right to sit, stand or do whatever he wants during the playing of the National Anthem. Many before us have fought and died for that right.
So yes Kaepernick has his rights, but so to do the fans. Most football fans pay their money to attend the game to root for their favorite team and have a good time. They don’t want to see a flag they value symbolically trampled or besmirched. So while all legal, it just points out one more area where the NFL, which Kaepernick represents, is on a different side than the fans.
Most fans could care less about their favorite athlete’s political views or platform. They want them to complete the next pass or tackle, not give a synopsis on their views on the state of relations in the U.S. or the upcoming presidential election.
–Concussions. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to clean-up the game. Fans want hard hits that turn into points for their team. Something has to give. On top of that, fans may pay to watch a toned-down game, but will they let their children continue to play a game where the actual players are walking away early to avoid severe concussions? The NFL has a difficult challenge in front of it and seems to be wishy-washy on its end goal.
Despite these “frustrations,” fans keep coming back. And I raise my hand, I’m one of them. I’m guilty as charged. I’ll be glued in this season just as in years past. We keep coming back again and again, but at some point the NFL will most certainly take a hit to the bottom line. We’ll buy one less jersey, skip going to the game completely, who knows what else.
I can’t see it happening today or tomorrow … but who knows what the future will bring. And how it will manifest itself. Like any business, the NFL ignores it fan base at its own peril.
As I thought about the start of this football season, however, I thought of one thing Goodell could do immediately that could double, triple or even quadruple fan interest: turn New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension into a year-long one!
Now that would be an improvement worth making. Sorry New England!