The NFL is well aware of the challenges it faces on and off the field. It has an army of very smart business people, team executives and high priced consultants working to figure out how to move forward over the next few years with a strategic plan.
In Part 1 of "Is the NFL too big to fail?" we examined those on- and off-field issues in detail. Here in Part 2, we examine their potential solutions...
It’s My Brain
In September, the NFL announced the “Play Smart Play Safe” initiative, striving for a healthier game for all of its players.
"The NFL has been a leader on health and safety in many ways, and we've made some real strides in recent years," Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "But when it comes to addressing head injuries in our game, I’m not satisfied, and neither are the owners of the NFL’s 32 clubs. We can and will do better."
The NFL concussion protocol was first implemented in 2009, adjusted in 2011, and tightened up in the last five seasons, including the addition of disciplinary action against teams that don’t follow the guidelines.
Growing Up On The Gridiron
As we pointed out in Part 1, participation in youth football is declining.
NFLers are made early as millions of children as young as six strap on the gear. NFL, high school and college football leaders understand that without a player pipeline they have a serious problem.
Full contact drills on the youth level and even in some college programs have been cut out or greatly curtailed and the NFL is putting time and money into "Heads Up Football."
USA Football, youth football’s governing body, was formed in 2002 when the NFL and the players' union joined forces. They have been marketing the program to thousands of leagues, coaches, parents and players of the future.
The program's actual impact in terms of injury remediation is still somewhat unclear.
Bet On It!
Fantasy gaming has tens of millions of players who are already living their lives in the world of make-believe. With the advent of legalized betting on sports -- which I expect to happen in the near future -- what better way to get ready then running your own team.
Of the projected $95 billion that will be gambled on football throughout the 2016 season, nearly $93 billion was bet illegally, according to the American Gaming Association. Last season’s Super Bowl alone purportedly produced nearly $4 billion in illegal wagers.
"Illegal sports betting is reaching new heights of popularity in America," American Gaming Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman said in a press release. "It’s clear that a federal ban on traditional sports betting outside of Nevada is failing."
This is a societal problem that is not getting any better at sporting events around the world.
Booze leads to bozos who choose to bruise if you look at them sideways or ask that they not curse out your wife or six-year-old. Common human decency is extremely hard to legislate and control.
When fans are more fearful of an illegal hit in the stands than seeing one on the field, it's a serious problem for all stadium operations personnel.
The world is shrinking, especially in sports.
Only time will tell whether the NFL will have teams like the London Fogs, the Mexico City Aztecs, the Rome Emperors, the Beijing Great Wall or the Sydney Roos. It’s coming, because someone is going to pay a record expansion fee to own one of these teams.
We already have NFL owners who have major stakes in Global soccer:
- Glazer Family -- Tampa Bay Bucs and Manchester United.
- John Henry -- Fenway Sports Group and liverpool FC
- Shahid Khan -- Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham FC
- Stan Kroenke -- LA Rams and Arsenal
Those with institutional movie knowledge might have been fans of the original "Rollerball" film that debuted in 1975 starring James Caan as Jonathan E. The movie’s tag line was "In the not-too-distant future in 2018," which is right around the corner. All teams in the film were owned by global businesses, corporate conglomerates and utilities, and not by megarich individuals. Jonathan E. was the sport's MVP, starring for the Energy Corporation in Houston.
I Wanna Play! (But I Don't Wanna Get Hit!)
Every football fan wants to be a star for a day. Some adrenaline junkies even want to feel what it's like to to shoot the gap and knock Tom Brady on his butt. How about catching a Derek Carr 55-yard "Hail Mary" to win the game? Or running back a kickoff for 100 yards? In the new NFL, you’ll be able to program yourself in whenever you want with their virtual reality app and headset.
Masters Of Media: How To Get Big By Going Small
Is the NFL going bigger by focusing on being smaller? Looking at any number of mobile devices, I can’t help but see them as miniature football fields. No matter how humongous the flat screen on the walls is, everyone carries at least one of these mobile football venues of the future.
Last April the NFL announced that Twitter obtained the global rights to stream ten Thursday night games, for which Twitter will pay $10 million. That seems like an extra point by NFL media rights standards. And there were higher bidders than Twitter. The NFL's decision was clearly driven by Twitter's 320 million accounts (which sign in to their site at least once a month). Last year the NFL and Twitter agreed to a two-year deal to distribute highlights.
Through the precedent-setting deal, select games will be available for consumption over the air, cable and digital platforms.
The structure will allow Twitter to lure more users to its service through the massive popularity of the NFL’s live content.
The NFL is a media-rich property that is constantly adding to its bottom line. The NFL media pie has more slices than a national pizza chain. The power of football gives them the flexibility to partner with numerous media providers:
- NFL MEDIA PARTNERS
- NFL Network
- NBC Universo
- Fox & ESPN Deportes
- Multiple individual countries broadcast outlets
- Westwood One
Last season Yahoo paid $20 million to live stream the game between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars from London on Oct. 25. Yahoo paid for exclusive rights for the game, including advertising inventory.
The NFL’s growing relationship with Twitter, Yahoo, Verizon, Bose, Xbox and other digital and tech partners exemplifies a focus on creating and growing channels of product delivery.
The NFL’s major broadcast deals will come up for negotiation at the end of this decade. Will we be seeing a new wave of multi-billion dollar rights fees from non-traditional entities such as telecommunications companies, web giants, or entities yet to be created?
With the issues facing the league well documented, the NFL knows you are staying tuned to their plans to stay at the top of the professional sports food chain. Fans will have to see how those plans develop before knowing if, indeed, the NFL is too big to fail...