How the NFL is shooting itself in the foot, over and over
The NFL is on the verge of precipitous decline due to a weakening of the three legs of the stool upon which the league's empire sits: attendance, viewership, and revenue. All of these items are interrelated. All three are being eroded. Taken together, it is likely that the NFL has reached its high water mark and instead of expanding, as it dreams, the league will instead diminish in importance from here on out.
As to the underlying causes for the NFL's problems, start with the most glaring: the Wuhan virus. In response to this pandemic, NFL games will be played in empty or near empty stadiums — that is, if the games are played at all. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already canceled their 2020 fall season, and other major collegiate conference may follow suit. All it would take to foreclose on the 2020 NFL season is an outbreak of COVID-19 among a number of players. If the virus is as contagious as the experts say, this might be hard to avoid. This would wreak havoc on NFL finances, and contentious
questions would then arise on how, or whether, to compensate the players, coaches, and support personnel.
After the NFL struggles one way or another through the 2020 season, what happens next year? The lockdowns and ensuing business closures have reduced the amount of discretionary money people will have to spend on entertainment. And given that the league is obsessed with squeezing every last nickel out of fans with ticket prices, parking fees, and the cost of basic refreshments, many fans will decide to forgo the "game day experience" and spend their money on more worthwhile things.
A second reason for the NFL to be concerned is the number of fans the league's preachy leftward tilt has angered. This factor affects not merely attendance, but also and more importantly the critical TV ratings. It is hard to say how many fans are alienated due to the NFL's "wokeness" and its embrace of Black Lives Matter, but I hope it's significant. I say that not to be vindictive. Rather, it's because an adverse reaction to the league's current posture is a sign that there is still a willingness in the country to put the honor of America ahead of something as trivial as sport entertainment.
As advertisers see a falloff in viewership, they will cut back on spending for NFL games, hurting the league's revenue even further. How, then, will teams pay the obscene 2020 season salaries to players like Patrick Mahomes ($45 million), Arron Rogers ($10.5 million), Julio Jones ($22 million), Amari Cooper ($20 million), and so on?
The third major factor undercutting the NFL's attendance, viewership, and revenue is demographic. Simply put, the younger generation is not in love with the game nearly as much as its elders are. To them, the games are boring. They're filled with endless commercials and a blizzard of game-stopping penalties, some of which nobody can really defend. The NFL's greed is also coming back to haunt it. It presents game after game on Sundays and then follows up with a game on Monday and Thursday nights. Can we say over-saturation here? Only a sports fanatic can absorb that much football.
NFL apologists will argue that once the Wuhan pandemic is past, things will reset to normal in 2021. No, they won't. Fans put off by the league's wokeness will never return, Millennials are not all of a sudden going to get excited over pro football, and people will not be flush with money in 2021 to spend going to games and buying NFL merchandise.
Finally, there is this: should the NFL lose TV viewing fans in 2020 for whatever reason, it will be hard to win many of them back. Why? It's because of habit. Many fans watch NFL games out of habit. They're on auto-pilot. It's Sunday, so turn on the games. Ditto for Monday night. This conditioning was slowly formed, beginning, I'd guess, in the 1960s or 1970s, when the games and the players who played them were different from today. Break the habit for even a season, however, and the scales will fall off the eyes on many a fan. He then will wonder, why did he ever spend five hours on Sunday watching football when he could have been doing so many other things? And as with Humpty Dumpty, once this habit is broken, all of King Roger Goodell's horses and all his public flacks won't be able to put it back together again.