Unless dramatic changes are made, the NFL is doomed.
But not for the reasons that one might think.
It’s certainly not the concussions and the resulting CTE brain injuries that will spell the end of the NFL. At the end of the day, I believe that advances in medicine and sports equipment will mitigate the harm to the players to an acceptable level given the money involved.
Please note, I’m not saying that ‘any’ amount of brain injury to NFL players is acceptable, but no occupation is truly 100% risk free, and many occupations (coal mining etc) have a high degree of inherent risk, and harm a certain percentage of ‘participants” each and every day, yet they continue, mostly for economic reasons.
But the trend of NFL ratings drop will continue, and it has nothing to do with brain injuries. Instead, it has a lot to do with the manner in which people consume media today.
Take an NFL game for example. A game last three (3) hours, aka 180 minutes. But the actual game time is only 60 minutes. Aka 33% of the total viewing time. And about half of those 60 minutes of that precious game time is spent with the team in the huddle, the fans simply waiting for a play to start.
Long story short, to watch a complete NFL game, you must watch for three hours, and the most of those 180 minutes are spent ‘not’ watching gameplay at all, you’re watching beer and/or truck commercials, or waiting for a play to start, while a retired football player talks about the game.
It is a famous statement that “football was made for television.” Agreed.
But football was designed for 1960s television, not 2016-2017. The NFL business model is extinct, and lies in direct conflict to how Americans consume media today.
Go on You Tube or Facebook. Note, the ‘stars’ of this generation perform for one another in videos that are less than 30-seconds long. People watch one, then go to another. When a video is not good, they move onto the next with a click of a mouse — they don’t wait around to see if Act 2 gets interesting.
Music-wise, it’s the same thing – there are few if any kids listening to an entire album, they listen to singles, and are just as quick to make the switch if the song starts out slow. Make no mistake about it — the movie business is worried about the evolution in media consumption as well. Is a 90 minute feature motion picture the cinematic art form of the future? Perhaps not. The pace of media consumption is becoming faster and faster, with viewers seemingly have the attention span of a goldfish, consuming all media in short bursts. There’s a reason that NFL highlights are still popular, yet the television ratings are abysmal — the highlights are, outside of hard core fans, everything the modern generation needs to see from the NFL.
To further complicate this, the controversy of Kaepernick and other plays refusing to stand for the US national anthem has done a lot more damage to the sport than the NFL cares to admit.
First things first – I support and embrace the players right to protest. I fully understand that racism still exists in American, and I think that is horrible. As one example, I find the fact that so many African American men are incarcerated relative to their percentage of the total population is not only wrong, it is an embarrassment to our nation and needs to be fixed. I also understand and embrace free speech, I spent years in law school studying constitutional law. I get it.
But let’s look at the issue pragmatically for the NFL. Many of the players are getting paid for one season more than most of their fans will make in a decade. Maybe in their lifetime, in some cases. Watching or attending an NFL game is entertainment, by definition, the fan’s escape from the day to day difficulties of working, trying to pay bills and taxes etc.
So, the average Joe either pays a ton of money to go to the game, or spends three hours of what would otherwise be family time, to watch an NFL game that now starts with outright negativity, if not disrespect.
The point the players are missing — the Star Spangled Banner is the song of Americans, aka their fans.
The fans don’t watch this opening thinking, ‘Wow, it’s great that Kaepernick is so committed to social justice blah blah blah.” Most of the fans feel as if Kaepernick is personally disrespecting them, aka Americans. Or at the least, the opening ceremonies to this three hours of an inherently slow sport has become outright negativity.
If I was an NFL coach or owner, and I was paying someone millions of dollars to be my QB, I would want them focused on their job from the minute they walk into the stadium until the minute they walk out. Not tormenting the fans.
Again, I support the message.
But if Kaepernick wants to protest, he should go protest outside of the game. Speak to Congress, hold sit ins, speak out against racism, push for reform — I’ll be behind him every step of the way. But don’t kick your own fans in the teeth to start every long boring game, and then expect them to be happy and excited about watching you play. That’s ridiculous.
HOW TO FIX.
How do you fix this?
The NFL game needs to evolve to mirror media consumption today. The game needs to get faster, with less interruptions. And it’s not instant replay that is causing the damage – that stoppage at least adds some certainty to the results.
It’s the 500 beer and truck commercials, the TV timeouts, that makes new fans shake their head and want to run away. Face reality — 66% of an NFL game is dead air. 75-80% if you count the time in the huddle. The game needs to get faster, and maybe the no huddle offense should be the rule, not the exception. Extra points are still borderline ridiculous. And finally, support the players right to protest — outside of the game. Not during.
For the first time since 1987 I have not watched a single NFL game this season. I watch soccer now, which is fast and entertaining. But please know, I have not walked away from the NFL to protest anything. I’m just bored.