For years the National Football League has found itself near or at the top of the charts in regards to American entertainment. There is no event in television history that has been more watched than the Super Bowl as it has grown into an international event. But when you bring basic physics into the equation, what goes up must come down and the NFL is not immune to that.
The National Football League’s television ratings are down from last season with a portion of that being attributed to some fans being upset with players using the national anthem to protest police brutality and social injustice in the US. But as the media wants to spin the anthem protest into being the main or only reason that the television ratings being down, think again.
The National Football League has become a victim of its own success. The NFL pulled in $14 billion last season which includes profit from merchandise sales as well as revenue from advertising. But the NFL is spreading itself too thin.
The National Football League is focused on putting a franchise in England and to do so, it is attempting to force its fan base in the United States to watch games that begin at 9:30 AM Eastern Standard Time. The National Football League is also hell bent on force feeding Thursday Night games down our throats each week which for the most part have been unwatchable. There is also a lack of quality play coming from the quarterback position while tackling on defense is optional. And with growing concern over player safety, the unbreakable facade of the NFL is beginning to crack with the best way to sum it up is that they are now victims of their own arrogance.
The owners of each National Football League team are a part of very elitist group of billionaires. The majority of these men are self made, and in order for them to make it to this point in life, they became accustomed to getting their way and taking no for an answer. As a whole the NFL owners not only view the players as mere employees that can replaced at the drop of a dime, but also as highly compensated muscle in shoulder pads. And because of that there is a huge disconnect between the owners and players.
Right now it is safe to refer to Dallas Cowboys team owner Jerry Jones as the “lead” owner. Jones purchased the Cowboys in 1989 for $140 million after attaining success in the oil industry. Jones entered the ownership circle as a very wealthy man, but he was very low on the totem pole in regards to the respective team owners in the National Football League. At the time there were iconic owners around the NFL such as Wellington Mara of the New York Giants, Art Modell of the Cleveland Browns, and Al Davis of the Los Angeles Raiders. Mara and Modell played a big hand in the NFL’s merger with the American Football League in 1966, while Davis never backed down from battling the league office and former commissioner Pete Rozelle.
But since then these iconic owners have passed away along with other team owners and now Jones has become the senior man in the room. And after Jones spent years humbling himself, he is beginning to extend his influence.
Jones was influential in bringing the National Football League to Los Angeles after a 22-year hiatus in the second largest media market in the United States, while also being one of the mastermind of the league’s lockout of the players in 2011. When the NFL was attempting to suspend New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his alleged role in under inflating footballs for the 2014 AFC Championship Game, it was Jones who acted as one of the owners that forced the hand of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to drop the hammer on the star quarterback. Goodell would suspend Brady for the first four games of the 2015 NFL season; but this suspension would be appealed by the National Football League’s Player’s Association on behalf of Brady and the decision was overturned. Brady would play the entire 2015 season, but the NFL would take its case to another court where the decision was reversed. Brady would serve his suspension during the first four games of the 2016 season, however it would not prevent the Patriots from winning the Super Bowl this past February.
Jones forced Goodell’s hand in suspending Brady as he felt that no player is above the game, but now the shoe is on the other foot and the longtime owner of the Cowboys is not a fan of it.
In 2016, the National Football League opened an investigation into domestic violence accusations against Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot that were made by his former girlfriend. The Columbus Police Department opened an investigation of their own and found that Elliot’s ex-girlfriend was not credible which resulted in no charges being field against the running back. This past August however, the NFL decided to suspend Elliot for six games after it was deemed that he violated the league’s personal conduct policy. What has ensued since then was a back and forth in the court of law where the NFL continuously fought to uphold Elliot’s suspension, while the NFLPA continued to counter in order to get it overturned. Each party continued to seek out a court that would listen to their case as Elliot’s eligibility to play was being decided on week-to-week basis until the NFL won out which resulted in the Pro Bowl running back beginning his suspension on November 5.
Jones has expressed frustration publicly over the case as he feels that this was an attempt by Goodell to make an over correction after the debacle of the Ray Rice suspension in 2014. This along with the anthem protest by some players has the full attention of Jones. Jones wants the players to stand as he feels that it is “good for business”, while he also believes that the kneeling players are turning fans off. And if less fans are attending games as well as watching them on television, it is messing with the bottom line for Jones which is the almighty dollar.
This has led Jones to attempt to block Goodell’s opportunity to receive an extension from the National Football League and he has the support of some team owners on this issue as well. Jones has even threatened to sue the NFL if he does not get his way. However Jones’ power play has blown up in his face as there was a contingency of team owners who countered by threatening him by forcing him to sell his beloved Cowboys if he continued to impede the talks with Goodell as his actions were deemed as “conduct detrimental to the league”. Jones was not a member of the compensation committee and he drew the ire of Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank who is leading that charge. And although that Jones is the senior man in the room, he is now seething as he isn’t getting his own way on the matters of Elliot or Goodell.
But Jones is not the only National Football League team owner that Goodell or the league must worry about. At a recent meeting between some players and owners, there was an attempt to find a resolution that each side has over the issue in regards to the anthem. During that meeting Houston Texans owner Bob McNair was quoted as saying “we can’t have inmates running the prison”. This statement by McNair caused immense public outcry which also included several Houston players walking out of practice. McNair has since apologized for his remarks, but in the eyes of many people, the ship has already left the port. And McNair’s comments led to the majority of the Texans team taking a knee in their next contest versus the Seattle Seahawks.
Aside with issues of the anthem, the National Football League has also alienated some fan bases. Prior to moving back to Los Angeles, Rams owner Stan Kronke rebuffed several offers from the City of St. Louis to build a new stadium on the waterfront. And now that the folks of St. Louis have now had two NFL franchises leave town on them within less than 30 years, I doubt that we’ll ever see another franchise there again. For more than 50 years the Chargers called the City of San Diego home, but once team owner Dean Spanos was unable to secure public funding for a new stadium, he decided to pack up his team and move to Los Angeles. What ensued was a bitter divorce as lifelong Chargers fans poured out into the streets with outrage which included the act of some folks burning and destroying their beloved team merchandise. Like the Rams and Chargers, the Raiders are ready to bid farewell to their longtime home. The Raiders are in the midst of their second stint in the City of Oakland. And like Kroenke and Spanos, once Raiders team owner Mark Davis didn’t get what he wanted, he decided to move his club to Las Vegas. But the real kicker in the case of the Raiders is that they will continue to play in Oakland until there new stadium is built in Vegas which is a real slap in the face to the Raiders fans in the Bay Area.
Issues in regards to player safety are not going away anytime. There is a growing concern in regards to CTE as this is a medical condition that has been found in numerous former players as the years of heavy blows to the brain have debilitated some of these men. The National Football League continues to claim that its all about player safety. However having a Thursday night game each week as well as travelling to London has cut down on the opportunity for players to rest and recover physically and it is only going to get worse.
There are solutions for the National Football League to recover from this myriad time that they are currently in, but I doubt that the team owners will check their egos enough to do it. The NFL should on only have one Thursday game in the months of September-November with the month of December dedicated to having games on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. By doing so it would make Thursday Night Football a more marquee event, while it would also give the league an opportunity to showcase its marquee teams. The first Thursday of the season is focused on having the defending Super Bowl Champion open up at home, while the rest and recovery aspect doesn’t come into vogue then since all 32 teams are fresh out of training camp.
But having a Thursday night game each week has taken away from another marquee day for the National Football League which is Thanksgiving. The NFL had three games on Thanksgiving Day this year and for the most part they were all boring. The Cowboys are not the same team without Elliot, while the injuries that both the New York Giants and Washington Redskins have had to deal with this season meant that somebody was going to win their meeting by accident.
The National Football League needs to go back to what made their brand successful which was quality over quantity. There was a time when Monday Night Football was reserved for the marquee teams, but now everyone gets a crack at the honey pot. The NFL has also gone overboard in turning its draft into a glorified circus that is only missing P.T. Barnum as this event that was once a two-day affair, is now drug out over three days with constant features that nobody cares about.
But things will never get better for the National Football League as more than ever today’s team owners only cares about their respective bottom line which is making money like a true capitalist. And at some point in my lifetime, this naive approach will ultimately be the undoing of the shield.