Maybe Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wasn’t simply a jealous hater in March 2014 when he shared his opinion about the NFL expanding its Thursday night TV package.
“Just watch,” Cuban told reporters prior to a Mavericks game. “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.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has scoffed at that philosophy. In 2010, he stated that his goal was to grow league revenue from $8.5 billion to $25 billion by the year 2027. Goodell adheres to the playbook of Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas in “Wall Street.”
“Greed – for lack of a better word – is good,” Gekko said. “Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
And, quite possibly, the downward spiral of NFL viewership.
There are several reasons for the double-digit dip in TV ratings this season and some – the presidential election, technological advances and modern viewing habits – are beyond the league’s control. But Goodell’s insistence on cramming the schedule with more and more games has to be a factor. Especially when the sport’s quality seems to be eroding.
Providing excessive access to a bad product is a good way to lose customers, already bombarded with free-time options and distractions.
Far from the days of “Must See TV,” NBC’s advertising slogan when it dominated Thursday nights with offerings like “The Cosby Show,” “Cheers” and “Seinfeld,” the NFL’s midweek slate is closer to “No Thanks TV.” The 1-5 Bears are featured this week. The Chargers were 1-4 when they appeared. The 49ers were 1-3.
Just because a game airs in primetime doesn’t mean it deserves a national audience.
Besides the fact that there are too few decent matchups to go around, Thursday games often are abysmal because the teams were in action just four days earlier. Players’ bodies barely recover within a week. So, naturally, the league deemed it appropriate to slice that time in half.
Monday Night Football has been ingrained in our psyche for nearly half a century. Playing a game on Sunday night seemed like a natural extension of Sunday afternoon, so no real problem there, either. Thursday nights other than Thanksgiving was a terrible idea. Perhaps the only thing worst would be increasing the number of games kicking off at 9:30 on Sunday mornings.
Earlier this month it was Jacksonville vs. Indianapolis. This weekend it’s Los Angeles vs. the New York Giants. In Week 8, Washington faces Cincinnati. Why does the league think folks want to get up early just because a game is played in London?
While we’re asking questions, why, if the goal is increased interest overseas, does the league keep exporting the Jaguars? Jacksonville has played in London four consecutive seasons. What have England’s NFL fans done to deserve such cruel and unusual punishment?
As things stand, ratings for Sunday games in the traditional 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. time slots are relatively flat. The steep declines have been seen in the standalone windows, the primetime and early morning games when no other NFL options are available. Overall ratings are down 11 percent for the first six weeks compared to the same point last year, but the marquee slots have cratered.
MNF broadcasts have posted record-lows for two consecutive weeks. Steelers-Chiefs on Sunday night in Week 4 was down 31 percent compared to the same period in 2015. Last week’s Thursday tilt between Denver and San Diego was down 20 percent from the year before.
The presidential election will be history three weeks from now, giving the NFL one less explanation if ratings don’t rebound. Goodell can still point to increased competition from cable and satellite and mobile content providers – which only figures to grow – but he should look in the mirror, too, where his reflection has dollar signs for eyes.
Being greedy has led to over-saturation.
Being greedy also has led to inferior football, with expensive veterans jettisoned in favor of cheap youngsters on rookie contracts.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the average career length for NFL players has shrunk by two and a half years from 2008 to 2014. “Let’s be honest,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy told The Ringer. “The younger the league, the less experienced the league is and with that, the quality of play doesn’t start off at the same level.”
The NFL is still a beast compared to anything else on TV. Of the top 100 highest-rated shows last year, 63 were NFL games. Viewership was up 27 percent over the previous 25 years, even though viewership for all primetime games was down 36 percent, evidence of the shift in viewing habits.
Cuban’s proclamation about pigs and hogs was dismissed as envy two years ago.
But now it’s clear: The NFL would be wise to step away from the trough.