Over the last year or so, one of the staples for sports commentary has been the declining TV ratings for NFL games. Some folks have called the drop “precipitous” or worse; that is a bit overblown because even though they are indeed down, NFL games remain the highest rated programming for NBC, CBS, FOX and ESPN. It just might be a tad too early to say we are watching an extinction event.
There have been lots of root causes for the declining popularity of NFL games offered by commentators in the past year, such as:
- The 2016 Presidential Campaigns/Debates: These may have had a small effect because NFL ratings did rise a bit after the November elections.
- CTE/Brain injuries: Moms do not want their kids to play football and so they encourage them not to watch it either.
- Colin Kaepernick and the “Anthem Protests”: While I have indeed said that I would have preferred a different vehicle for those protests, I have not come close to tuning out NFL games because of it.
- Colin Kaepernick and the “Blackballing Issue”: Frankly, this one seems to me to be an answer in search of a question. But that’s just me…
- Sociopathic players: There are indeed a lot of NFL players who are drug abusers and sexual abusers and perpetrators of domestic violence; so, maybe…
- Roger Goodell’s dealing with sociopathic players: Let’s just call his performance here “spotty” and leave it at that. OK?
- Sensory saturation: In many markets, fans can see 2 teams on Thursday night, 8 teams on Sunday and 2 more teams on Monday night. That is almost 40% of the teams each and every week.
I think the first six of those thematic hypotheses are stretched thin in terms of causing the league’s fall in popularity. I think there is much more meat on the bone for the seventh one on that list – – but I would like to add a bit more sinew to the structure.
Because of the “sensory saturation” mentioned above, I think fans have become – over the years – more sophisticated about the game of football. With so many viewing opportunities, lots of folks see lots of games not involving the hometown heroes so they can watch more dispassionately and learn more about the games. And as fans become a bit more “knowledgeable”, I think some of them achieve this status:
- “Hold Your Nose Watching”
There are too many games on TV under any circumstances; but in addition, there are too many games on TV where one or both teams is playing what knowledgeable fans have come to recognize as bad/incompetent football. If you were to tune into Comedy Central and saw a standup comic performing who was not funny, you would change the channel or hit the off-button. If you were to tune into a show like American Idol and heard a singer who sounded like a cat being given a bath, you would change the channel or hit the off-button. So, if you tune into and NFL game and see the Browns or the Niners or the Giants or the …
If my hypothesis here has validity for you, I want now to suggest two causes for this spread of bad play around the league:
- Lack of Practice: Football is a game that is learned by repetitive acts; a player is shown “proper technique” and then proceeds to master that technique through practice. The problem is that practice has been limited at the high school and college level for a variety of reasons; players arrive at the pro level with less practice time in their hip pockets. Then, the current CBA kicks in and NFL teams have limited off-season practice sessions and limited numbers of times when practices can be “physical”. The reason many games appear to be less competent than they used to be is – – the players have not been practicing as often and are tutored to a lesser degree.
- The NFL Salary Cap: The Law of Conservation of Mass applies directly to money. You cannot spend the same dollar twice. When teams pay their best players tens of millions of dollars per year – as they should – that means they need to have more than a few players making the league minimum to assure the total stays below the cap. Those “league minimum players” are not only less competent than the star players, they are the ones with the least practice time in their lifetime.
Some try to say there are in insufficient number of quality QBs these days. [Aside: many of those people make this argument in conjunction with the Colin Kaepernick and the “Blackballing Issue”.] I suggest that the problem here is more wide ranging. Indeed, there are an insufficient number of quality QBs in the NFL today; there are also an insufficient number of offensive linemen and defensive backs. One common denominator among those three positions is that all of them demand skills learned through lots of practice.
Switching gears … I saw a headline for an article at Golf.com that said:
“What is Tiger’s biggest hurdle in latest comeback?”
In the article under that banner, about a half-dozen golf writers/commentators offered their opinions and analysis. My answer had Golf.com thought to ask me would have been short and to the point:
- Biggest hurdle? Making the cut in a PGA Tour event.
Finally, let me leave you with these words from Brad Rock of the Deseret News:
“Grill guru George Foreman (68) has dared actor Steven Seagal (65) to meet him in the ring.
“After which the pair plans to star in a movie titled ‘Jurassic Park: Mueslix’.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………