Despite early season ratings doom-and-gloom, the NFL bounced back recently with ratings figures more in line with what Goodell and Company are used to. The end of a historic playoff run for both World Series participants (capped by what might be the greatest baseball game of all time) and the end of one of the most ridiculous and train-wreck presidential campaigns ever definitely had something to do with the NFL’s ratings decline, and then increase.
The bounce back also indicates that those who said they would turn off the NFL due to players kneeling to protest social injustices were full of malarkey.
Still, the ratings drop put a scare into the NFL, and they have to realize they aren’t in control of an infinite money printing machine as they thought.
The league has hit a saturation point, and it’s going to be all downhill from here unless they end the oversaturation and watering down of the league. Here are five ways the NFL can fix their popularity issues.
Do Away with Archaic Celebration Rules and Cut the Flag Fest
Enough with the hand-wringing over the kids and what it means down-line for the youths playing football. Let the players celebrate, don’t fine someone over 20% of their game check for pretending to take a picture. Who did that hurt? Nobody. It makes you look out of touch, it makes you look afraid to let your players have personality.
You want your league to be a spectacle and appointment television, but you also want to prevent players from being able to celebrate. The CFL has some of the best celebrations out there, and nobody is worried about the bad influences on Canadian youths.
Unless the celebrations are aggressive, far too long or in-your-face, let them be. Don’t throw a flag because four players are dancing together. Watching an NFL game has become an exercise in watching for the flag.
An amazing defensive play finds me immediately looking for yellow on green, because defenders aren’t allowed to ever make plays. There’s also excessive celebration (tied to point #1), holding that isn’t holding, and roughing the passer that isn’t roughing the passer. Let the defenders defend, NFL. I know it goes against the fantasy football culture you’ve built, but teams can air it out and let the refs use flags to march them down the field if the ball is close. That’s irksome.
Let Social Media Thrive
The NFL recently instituted a ban on allowing team social media accounts to post gifs or vines of plays. Instead, the NFL gets to control the flow of content, lest the team face a fine. This one makes less than no sense. It is intentionally cutting off access to free promotion for your league to make sure every single thing is Goodell-approved.
It’s nonsense. Take a page from the NBA and MLB, who have some of the best sports social media accounts out there. Don’t stifle social media, let it flourish.
Fix the London Games
In a fit of rage induced by watching an NFL game before the sun rose, I wrote that the NFL is hurting the overall product by having games played in London. They bring a franchise to Los Angeles, only to have one of the first ten games of their new, shiny franchise be at 6:30 AM local time.
That does nothing but alienate the fan base you just obtained, saying “thanks for your support, but we’re already onto getting a franchise in London.”
If you’re going to put a game on in London, just put it at 6 PM local time. That’s 10 AM Pacific and 1 PM Eastern, a slot already filled. Don’t try to make a separate timeslot just for your special London game, a time slot that is before sunrise in one of the teams’ home markets.
Cut Thursday Night Football Back
Before a few years ago, the NFL was Sunday and Monday until Thanksgiving, then they had two Thursday games on Turkey Day and a game on Thursday until the end of the season. Thursday Night Football was special, and it was usually a game you wanted to watch for playoff implications.
Now Thursday Night Football has expanded in every way. It’s weekly, and there are now three Thanksgiving games. Just like everything under Goodell, a third, non-traditional game is jammed in there for the sake of existing. Expansion for the sake of expansion. Putting the NFL in front of more eyeballs. The problem with Thursday Night Football is it’s unmitigated garbage.
So far this season the nation has been exposed to a 27-0 beat down, a 22-7 snore fest, a 33-21 trouncing, a Titans-Jaguars matchup, and a 28-7 debacle. Not until the 23-20 Saints-Panthers game in week eleven was there a truly good Thursday Night Football game this year.
The players aren’t ready, the teams aren’t ready, and nobody wants to watch that nonsense all season.
Add a Bye Week
By the end of the season, NFL teams resemble a MASH unit more than a professional sports franchise, with players getting worn down and succumbing to injuries. They get one week off during the season, and that is the only chance they get to spend more than 10 days without another massive person slamming into them.
Adding a bye is the only thing I can see here that the NFL could actually implement. Switching every team from one Bye to two and adding another week to the schedule is free money for the NFL, as they can make the season one week longer without adding any additional play time (and pay time) for the players.
The NFL hubris already has them spreading the game out as much as possible, and adding a second Bye is an easy way to make sure they get more eyeballs on their product. Plus, the NFLPA will go for it. If each team gets a bye between weeks three through eight, and another bye between weeks nine through fourteen, then players can stay healthy and rehab, and the NFL gets more views.
The NFL is a runaway freight train of popularity, and they don’t anticipate any signs of slowing down. They shouldn’t, it’s wildly popular, but that is because the sport is special and the setup is special.
Your team plays once a week, and you spend the rest of the week reflecting on what happened and gearing up for the next opponent. Instead, we have Thursday nights to worry about, as well as early Sundays.
Then when our team plays they aren’t allowed to play defense or celebrate their accomplishments. Then there’s the ever-present risk of injury without rehab. The product on the field is starting to suffer, and the NFL needs to start to stem the tide before they start to lose viewers.