Bottom line, life’s too short for bad football.
Everybody with a press badge has offered multilayered opinions on why NFL viewership is down nationwide by as much as 15 percent. It is a genuine concern for an enterprise so heavily fueled by TV revenues.
But the core of it is the league hasn’t given fans much to watch.
There have been presidential debates that are more combative than some of the games this fall, and there have been interesting baseball playoffs as a diversion. Technology is syphoning off some numbers, too, as more viewing options exist that don’t involve television.
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Many fans have been turned off by players’ anthem protests. The NFL denies that has an impact, but my email inbox tells me it does.
And even those who support players’ expressions, as granted by the First Amendment, are then often subjected to games disrupted by buffoonish officiating and interminable replay reviews. Games that turn into pillow fights contested between clubs shaped by a league that tried to legislate parity and got, instead, vastly boring mediocrity.
Really, how many teams in the league are worth watching?
Other fans are sensitive to the inevitable injuries (especially after learning of the league’s deaf ear to concussion dangers for decades). And even more sense a moral repugnancy toward a collective that is so inconsistent in punishing cases of domestic violence.
And some, like me, are increasingly amazed that the league believes it can remain watchable when there are no more than a handful of linemen who actually know how to run block. Good grief, hit somebody.
Amid all this, the commissioner and front offices are guilty of being sluggishly reactionary rather than visionary. It’s bad public relations. And there seems to be no understanding of how it got so bad so quickly.
How laughable is it now that the NFL was considering adding two more games to the season as well as international expansion? There already are 32 teams trying to get by with maybe 10 good quarterbacks and three or four first-rate left tackles.
The addition of “Thursday Night Football” has created a super-saturation of games, not to mention the general feeling of insult suffered by fans expected to sit through Jacksonville playing Tennessee on a school night. Fans just are not that stupid.
Followers of the Seattle Seahawks might have a hard time relating to the stories about the waning interest of the NFL nationwide.
These are the Seahawks with the 116 consecutive sellouts, who are among the habitual leaders in local market television ratings.
How have they done it? Well, they’ve been unrelentingly competitive, going 94 straight games with a fourth-quarter lead or being within one score. They haven’t lost a game by more than 10 points since 2011.
Even their recent overtime tie with the Arizona Cardinals on “Sunday Night Football,” called unwatchable by some national commentators, drew 22 percent higher viewing than its predecessor the week before.
The Seahawks’ success in prime time is a factor, as they’ve gone 15-3-1 in showcase games since coach Pete Carroll’s arrival in 2010.
Along the way, they were shrewd in nurturing the connection to their 12th Man fan base, and they’ve managed to keep their core of most effective and popular players intact.
No way around it, the NFL is a star-driven league, and the biggest are quarterbacks. Seahawk Russell Wilson continues to be among the top sellers of jerseys nationwide, and his profile has only increased since his marriage to globally recognized performer Ciara.
Plus, he’s spotless.
And to some extent, the Seahawks have become that way, too. They haven’t had a PED or substance-abuse suspension of a roster player since 2013. The only blemish has been the vehicular-assault charge against former fullback Derrick Coleman in 2015. And he wasn’t re-signed.
Meanwhile, the community involvement of the current Hawks continues to win fans.
During one recent week, Wilson brought some visiting Atlanta Falcons on his weekly rounds to Children’s Hospital to inspire sick kids, Cliff Avril committed to donating more than $6,000 for each sack he makes to rebuild homes in storm-devastated Haiti, and Michael Bennett spoke out for advancing literacy among local children.
A dozen or more others have similar involvements that have been so consistent it’s hard to question that it’s genuine and not done for PR value.
The biggest thing, though, is the Seahawks have given fans a winning and exciting product for their fiscal and emotional investment.
Maybe the league would be better off not trying so hard to be a star-spangled, around-the-clock birthright of all Americans and recognize it’s really a billion-dollar enterprise geared to making giant profits with players as commodities and fans as consumers.
Because those consumers have options.
It would feel a lot less hypocritical if the league just admitted all that. It would be a start.