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Is the NFL too big to fail? Part 2

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USATSI

Is the NFL too big to fail? Part 2

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."

Fan Behavior:
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.

Globalization
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
  • ESPN
  • NBC
  • CBS
  • FOX
  • Directv
  • NFL Network
  • Yahoo
  • Verizon
  • 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...

Mike Mayock reveals why he's OK with Raiders' NFL free agency spending

Mike Mayock reveals why he's OK with Raiders' NFL free agency spending

Mike Mayock always will be associated with the NFL draft. So it should come as no surprise that the former NFL Network draft analyst had to be convinced to improve the Raiders through free agency and trades.

NBC Sports' Peter King spoke with the Raiders general manager over the weekend and wrote about what Mayock told him in his Football Morning In America column.

So I’ve known Mayock for some time, and when we spoke Saturday night, he sounded like the same driven prospect-knower I’ve come to rely on in the last few years. “I’ll be honest,” he said. “I never believed in big spending in free agency. For years, that is not where my head was. But Jon Gruden and I spent a long, long time examining our team. We had so many team needs. We figured, we can go out and spend a little money on several positions. Or this year, we can look at three, four, five, six guys who can make a difference on the field and, as importantly, in the locker room. If we can get the guys we want, we should do it. We find a way to get Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, J.J. Nelson at receiver. We get a tackle, Trent Brown, 25 years old, who doesn’t even know how good he can be, who was lock-down, shutout in the playoffs for New England. We got Rodney Hudson at center, with a good young tackle, Kolton Miller, as the other tackle. We can line up and compete right now offensively.”

With the signings of Trent Brown, Williams, Joyner, Jon Feliciano, Josh Mauro and Nelson, the Raiders added just over $40 million to their 2019 salary. When you add the nearly $15 million that Anotnio Brown will make in 2019, Oakland has added $55 million worth of players for the upcoming season.

[RELATED: How AB trade almost didn't happen]

That definitely goes against Mayock's previous mindset. But as he's probably learning, you need veterans on the team in order to compete. And Gruden isn't about to throw away another year playing a bunch of rookies.

Why Raiders won award for Khalil Mack trade at MIT Sloan conference

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USATSI

Why Raiders won award for Khalil Mack trade at MIT Sloan conference

Daryl Morey is rooting for a team from ... Oakland?

The Houston Rockets general manager, whose Warriors obsession does not quite equate to fondness, told The Athletic's Vic Tafur he is "rooting for the Raiders" this season. The reason is even more surprising than the geography.

The Raiders won the Alpha Award at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston for "Best Transaction."

The deal?

Trading Khalil Mack (and a second-round pick) to the Chicago Bears for first-round picks in 2019 and 2020 and a third-round selection in 2020. 

“Everybody else thought it was a terrible trade, but draft picks are very valuable,” Morey told The Athletic over the phone Saturday. “Analytics tends to fly in the face of popular convention pretty often. We don’t care about what people say.”

Morey was a member of the voting panel and co-founded the conference. When he called Raiders president Marc Badain to tell him the Silver and Black took home the award, Badain thought it was a joke. 

"I had to tell him several times that I wasn't kidding," Morey said. "I guess they took a lot of heat for that."

That is an understatement. Mack finished the 2018 season with a half-a-sack fewer (12.5) than the Raiders did as a team (13), and made first-team All-Pro for the third time in the last four years. 

The 28-year-old also led the Bears to their first NFC North title (and a playoff berth) since 2010. That means the first-round selection the Raiders will ultimately receive is No. 24 overall, which is far lower than the team initially envisioned. 

[RELATED: Raiders reportedly hosting multiple veteran linebackers]

Of course, that pick is now one of five first-rounders the Silver and Black will have at its disposal in the next two drafts. That gives the Raiders a sizable opportunity to reshape their roster in the wake of winning just 10 games over the last two seasons.

The Mack trade was responsible for two of those selections, as well as the Raiders' newfound silverware. Morey said he was told the trophy is on Gruden's office desk. 

Whether any other trophies join the collection depends, at least in part, on what the Raiders do with the picks they got for Mack.