Given NFL’s plan to flex Thursday night games, maybe Mark Cuban was right, after all
Mark Cuban may have been right all along.
Pigs get fat. Hogs get slaughtered.
That’s what the billionaire and NBA owner said about the NFL, nearly nine years ago to the day.
“I think the NFL is 10 years away from an implosion,” Cuban said on March 23, 2014. “I’m just telling you, pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. And they’re getting hoggy. Just watch. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way.”
I dismissed Cuban’s warning at the time. He’s just jealous that the NFL has permanently eclipsed the NBA, I thought. The NFL is too big to ever get slaughtered, I believed. It’s far too popular to implode, I reasoned.
And while my initial reaction still may be right, the NFL is standing at a Rubicon that could eventually lead to the slaughterhouse.
The dramatic acceleration of the league office’s willingness to push owners to permit flexing of late-season Thursday night games makes it hard not to conclude that the NFL’s North Star is the Big Mamoo.
That’s hardly a revelation. We’ve known for decades that the NFL is a for-profit endeavor. That it’s all about making as much money as possible. That football is business but they say “football is family” because it’s good for business to say “football is family.”
This one feels like a bridge too far. The league’s desperation to boost the Amazon streaming experiment by replacing potentially bad late-season Thursday night games with better games from the following Sunday shows no regard for players who will have not one but two short-week games in a given season, no regard for team employees who must alter flight and travel arrangements on the fly, and -- perhaps most importantly -- no regard for fans who may have long-settled travel plans for either the Thursday night game that gets moved to Sunday, or the Sunday game that gets moved to Thursday night.
The Thursday night flexing, if adopted, would potentially apply in Weeks 14 through 17. In 2023, it will cover eight different dates in the period of December 8 through December 31.
What if a group of fans decides as a holiday excursion to fly to Las Vegas for a late-season Raiders game, set for a Sunday afternoon? What if, as the season goes along, it becomes clear that this will be a pretty good game? What if the NFL and/or Amazon decide the Thursday night game for that week is not good? What if the Raiders game is then picked to move to Thursday, two weeks before kickoff?
Yes, tickets can be resold. Yes, airline tickets can be refunded (or at least swapped for credit that the fans may not use before the credit expires). And, yes, hotel reservations can be canceled. But the experience is gone, and it’s not coming back.
The NFL, if it adopts Thursday night flexing, doesn’t care about this obvious potential inconvenience to fans who attend games. The NFL is prioritizing the entertainment of those who watch on TV (or not TV), in order to generate bigger ratings for the nascent pivot to streaming.
Who knows what the next wave of TV deals will entail? ABC, CBS, Fox, and/or NBC could be replaced by Amazon, YouTube, and/or Netflix. The better Thursday Night Football does on Amazon, the more the NFL will be able to squeeze out of its partners when the next set of deals is negotiated.
That’s what it’s all about. Boosting ratings for this new age of viewing platforms, in order to justify charging higher prices for those companies.
And that’s fine. The purpose of this item isn’t to persuade nine owners to vote against Thursday night flexing. They’re most likely going to do it, if they can engineer a path around the NFL Players Association.
So get ready. And don’t forget.
Pigs get fat. Hogs get slaughtered.
Football is family.
Sorry if your family has to scramble to change plans or dump tickets for that game you’ve been waiting for months to attend.