November 30, 2017


The NFL Is Dying; Here's Why : Forget about politics and injuries and technology. Look at the economics of the business. (JONATHAN V. LAST, 11/30/17, Weekly Standard)

This collapse of the NFL we're witnessing is not new. It's been happening for a long time just below the waterline. A buddy of mine, Steve Czaban, used to keep a running count on the waiting list for Redskins season tickets. When I first moved to Washington it was something like 35 years. Then it was 20 years. Then 15 years. Then 10 years.

Today the wait list for Redskins season tickets is 17 seconds. Not a typo. (And the team is even offering $100 gift cards to people who buy a season ticket package.)

So what's happened over the last 20 years? Lots of things, including high-definition television and the internet. But the most foundational shift as far as the NFL is concerned is the available supply of games for TV viewing.

As recently as 1986, you could watch three professional tackle football games a week. There was a 1 p.m. slot on Sunday. Another at 4 p.m. on Sunday. And then the bonus game on Monday night. That was it. Three games a week, tops. Football was a scarce commodity; watching it was special.

In 1987 the NFL added a Sunday night game. In 2005 they added a Thursday night game. Suddenly the supply of games had increased by 66 percent.

Then, in 2009, the NFL added the Red Zone Channel, which offers people wall-to-wall coverage of the league as a whole on Sunday afternoons--but only shows highlights, as they happen.

There are two ways to look at the Red Zone Channel. The first is as a high-energy, fast-moving experience which packages football for the modern audience. That's what the NFL thinks it's giving its audience.

But allow me to explain what the Red Zone really is: It's a seven-hour advertisement each week during which the NFL tells people, "Hey, football is mostly pretty boring. Come here and we'll just show you the good stuff."

What business would ever risk making that sort of statement that about its product? A business that is focused entirely on short-term profit maximization.

If you want another example of the NFL's short-term thinking, look at the rise of fantasy football. Gambling has always been inextricably linked to football--the game is such a perfect vehicle for betting that if it didn't exist, Las Vegas would have invented it. But the NFL was always militant in trying to deny and separate betting from its business.

Until fantasy football.

The NFL jumped into fantasy football with both feet, thinking either that there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or that fantasy players would somehow broaden the sport's appeal. And maybe it worked for a spell. But fantasy football is essentially the same proposition as the Red Zone Channel: It encourages people to view the NFL product in a way that didn't necessarily mean watching NFL games.

Watching an NFL game in person is the American version of attending a Castro speech.

Posted by at November 30, 2017 4:54 PM