Is NFL Addiction To TV Money Ruining It’s Product?

Marc Elliott

LAKE NEE-MAN-NEE… Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. I know I have been on an annual harangue against the National Football League for about the last 10 years now. But heck, it’s not like they don’t deserve it, or that they shouldn’t have someone watching over them. To the contrary, it is a business in an industry that has proven to us over it’s history that someone had BETTER be watching over them. From a history of player head trauma issues, to Performance Enhancing Drug usage, to off field criminality issues, to taxpayer extortion for facility construction and more, it is an entity that begs for media and fan scrutiny. And I’m quite content to throw in my five cents worth.  

For those that don’t know, I got to grow up as a bit of a behind the scenes fan of an NFL team through a childhood neighbor and friend. I consider myself quite fortunate to be able to say that, and because of it, got to experience a lot of things that the majority of a clubs fan base never get in on. Did you see so and so score that touchdown on TV Sunday? He may have been at my families dinner table a couple of evenings later. It was cool, damn cool. I have never thought it made me superior to any other folks here on earth, and I realize how totally lucky I was to live that. And I got to know some of the most tremendous human beings you would ever want to meet.  

The sixties and seventies NFL was quite a bit different from what you see today, and of course, how couldn’t it be. Yes, it was pro sports for certain, but the fixation on it, and from many more angles was in it’s formative years, it had yet to become the corporate behemoth it is at this point. When the local club moved to the HHH MetroDome it still had a family business feel to it, and that may have held because there was still a local ownership. The league was changing though. Monday Night Football was entrenched and in time would give way to late season Saturday games, Thursday nights and the new Sunday night games. The Monday night game at one point had so many lopsided stinker games that there was a clever, very popular TV wrestling show that was waxing it in the TV ratings. The league was debating scrapping it.  

My favorite club owner had divulged his interest in the late eighties, but the team still had local flavor in that regard. In the late nineties that came to end with the sale of the team to an out of state businessman and some factors began to converge, locally and nationally. The mystique of our local team, carefully crafted and cultivated by many that were part of the organization was slowly but surely fading. It is non-existent now, gone forever. It’s all corporate today. As such, somewhere along the line, and in order to outpace rising players salaries, (and to go the way of the rest of the contemporary corporate world) the league and it’s teams became all about things like revenue maximization, profitability and moreover, developed a major focus on vastly extending franchise values for owners.

That’s great. That’s the reason people go into business right? My question is how can you go down that road and keep a 60 to 70 year old product as fresh and appealing as it ever was? And what is your methodology? In the case of the NFL for a period of time it was in getting your local taxpayers to shell out for facilities for which in turn the team/NFL wouldn’t yank your beloved team out from under you to somewhere that would build one for them. The NFL had done a basic mob turn. Do this for us or we will take this from you. Extortion 101. What else stinks about that? It was just a way for clubs to externalize their costs of doing business while almost always internalizing the profits. They would employ the timeworn “look at the commerce the team brings in to a region” angle. More then a few studies have proven their impact to be negligible in most cases. But the threats were real and have been followed through on a few times. In our local example of franchise valuation enhancement via facility construction, in 1998 the Vikings were purchased for about $250 mil. That owner couldn’t get a new stadium deal done, but he sold the club in 2005 for about $600mil.  

After years of dealing topped off by an NFL Commissioner visit to the Minnesota Legislature to inform them of how hard it would be to keep the team in the state without a new building, a deal was finally passed. Without analyzing the flim-flamology of how the deal got done, what I can tell you with the team entering it’s second season at their new digs, is that it’s now worth about $2.2bil according to Forbes. WOW! Good for the Wilf family. Now, I wonder if they would mind explaining to me why any taxpayer, anywhere, should be forced to enhance their personal wealth in a privately owned and operated business. I’ve got time. Along the way, stadiums and the NFL TV contract became the biggest revenue drivers and that may never change. The TV networks pay the league a huge sum of money annually, and in turn need huge income to pay that and obtain profit as well. Enter in a mindless and vast array of advertising that could drive you to seek a lobotomy. Beer, boner pills and pickup truck ads seem to rule the airwaves during games.

The sad dichotomy is that too much beer will lead you to require the boner pills, while consuming too much televised football will lead you to a divorce which will in all likelihood cost you your new pickup truck. Geez.   And now, in order to satiate all that need to get dinero in one form or another, a 60 minute NFL game takes 3 to 3.25hrs to play in which there is about an actual 12 minutes of football plays taking place. (Harvard study) To take in a warmup show, the afternoon doubleheader, and the Sunday night tilt, you will be in front of your boob tube for roughly 11 hours on an average Sunday. Yup, 11 hours to see 36 minutes of playing activity. And folks, about 5 hours of that is ad time. What will I be doing this Sunday? I can tell you what I won’t be doing… PEACE