I get the NFL Network in my cable TV package here; and not surprisingly, the cable provider has that channel nested in with all the other sports channels. Therefore, when I go grazing in that part of the programming spectrum, I pass by and through the channel that provides NFL Network. At this time of the year, the programming there seems to consist of two things:
- Studio shows bringing me “breaking news” from training camps around the country and trenchant analysis of what the implications of such “breaking news” could be for the teams/players involved. [Hint: Just about every newsy tidbit has either glorious or apocalyptic implications. I have yet to hear one of the studio experts hear a news item and say, “Meh!”]
- Replays of NFL Exhibition Games.
If I stop on the NFL Network in one of my grazing periods and they have an Exhibition Game replay on, I will often stop and watch a couple of plays. I am not focused at all on the players because, in the first exhibition games, teams play guys who will not be on the roster in the regular season. The first Exhibition Game is sort of like one of those meaningless college football bowl games in mid-December; the outcome is irrelevant; few if any of the participants will make their living playing the game of football.
What I do focus on is the attendance. Here is what I notice:
- There are huge swaths of empty seats in every venue I have seen. In most cases, it would be generous to say that the stadium is 50% full; in a couple of cases, I would not be surprised to do a head count and find only 35% of the seats filled.
I am not about to fall into the trap of taking this “breaking news” and interpreting it as some sort of omen of doom for the NFL. Fans are not abandoning the NFL – or football in general – as a pastime. What I think is going on here is more positive than that. Those seats are empty for two reasons:
- Some fans who were coerced into buying tickets to these Exhibition Games as part of their season ticket package and who could not give them away to friends/relatives simply chose to stay home. They made an entertainment choice; they could do something more entertaining/pleasant in their lives than go to see a meaningless Exhibition Game. Give those folks a round of applause for having at least a semblance of a life.
- A lot of fans who had the option to purchase seats not potentially encumbered by a season ticket holder’s fanny also found something else to do with their time and money. Let’s give those folks a round of applause too.
At its core, the NFL is entertainment. It is a hugely popular form of entertainment and the players often compare themselves to show biz entertainers as a way of justifying why they get multi-million-dollar salaries to play a game that happens to be shown on TV. I get that; I have no problem with that.
I do have a problem with “entertainment” that does not deliver. I am not a big music concert fan so let me pick an artist who is very popular and use him as example here. This is purely fictitious because I have never heard this entertainer perform. Imagine that the XYZ Club in Punxsutawney PA announces that Bruce Springsteen will appear live on their stage this weekend. You can make reservations there for dinner and there will be a $10.00 cover charge. I presume that if you are a fan of Bruce Springsteen and you live somewhere within striking distance of Punxsutawney, you might consider attending this event.
Here’s the rub. When you show up and you order your dinner and have paid your cover charge, Bruce Springsteen walks onto the stage and tells you and the rest of your audience that he is not going to sing that night. He is there only to introduce you to your entertainment for the evening and he calls Joe Flabeetz and the Atonal A-holes onto the stage. He thanks you for coming and leaves the building.
Folks, that is NFL Exhibition Game football. The real players are there; you can see them; they might even step on the field for the briefest of moments. But you are paying top dollar to see a mid-December college football bowl game. Fans are beginning to catch on and their action now is to stay home and do something else.
Lots of commentators – including me – have advocated cutting the Exhibition Season to at most 2 games and preferably 1 game. The Commish has said that he is concerned with the quality of play in Exhibition Games – demonstrating conclusively that he is awake and conscious of his surroundings. If you are a season ticket holder for an NFL team, you can consider the price you pay for these sub-standard performances like a cover charge to see Joe Flabeetz and the Atonal A-holes assault your ear-pans in lieu of [fill in the blank of your favorite musical entertainer here].
Speaking of irrelevant sporting events, let me turn my attention to the NBA regular season. In the “Era of the Super-Team”, the vast majority of the games in the regular season are reduced to “happenings”. On the spectrum of anticipation, “happenings” fall below “occurrences” which fall below “events”. “Happenings” rank above “instances” but not much else. Here is an example of a sports “happening”:
- Today, the Phillies play the Giants in SF. The Phillies are dead last in the NL East with the worst record in MLB; the Giants are dead last in the NL West a mere 38.5 games behind the division leading Dodgers.
- This game has no “far-reaching implications”; Hell, it doesn’t even have “near-reaching implications”. But they will play it anyway; it is a “happening”.
The NBA announced its full regular season schedule this week. Sportsonearth.com had an article identifying 10 games you should circle your calendar for; these were the games you dared not miss. There are 1230 regular season games; this article says that 10 of them are “events”; a few others will be sort of important regarding who makes the playoffs so they can lose to one of the Super-Teams; the rest of them are either “happenings” or “instances”. Wake me when the playoffs start in April 2018… By the way, here is a link to that list of 10 games you don’t want to miss – just in case you are interested.
Finally, staying with the general idea of low-grade entertainment today, here is a comment from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot about the reincarnation of the TV Show, Battle of the Network Stars:
“There are some things you never want to come back. Pet rocks. Disco. Bad oysters.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………