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Where are we at with the NFL?

I haven’t been posting much lately. I am entering the home stretch on my book on the evolution of the rules of baseball, and I am aiming for the rare condition of having the manuscript ready comfortably ahead of deadline. We’ll see. In any case, this is sucking up most of my surplus writing time. There are a couple of topics I want to touch on, however. I hope to write something intelligible about the state of baseball going into spring training.  Someday I hope to finish my series on why Americans don’t (to a first approximation) play soccer, while everyone else (also to a first approximation) does. Today, however, my subject is the state of the NFL.

I posted on this last year. The gist of the post was that the NFL’s TV ratings were down: about 9 percent for the season, and 6 percent for the Super Bowl. Would the trend continue? I am here now to report that yes, the trend did indeed continue. Ratings for the regular season were down a whopping 9.7 percent below last year’s already declining numbers, and the Super Bowl, which by the way was a sockdollager of a game, were down 7 percent from last year. Folks, what we have here is a trend!

On the one hand, this decline parallels the general decline in television viewing, so the argument is that there is nothing to see here. Articles taking this line like to point out that NFL ratings are still huge, compared with everything else on TV. On the other hand, up to two years ago the talk was that live sports, and especially the NFL, were the bulwark against cord cutting. People who weren’t sports fans might switch to Netflix and Hulu, but the huge number of sports fans wanted to see the games live, and would pay the cable bill for the privilege. This is clearly no longer true, and this is a huge shift.

But perhaps these are people who are cutting the cord out of financial necessity, but remain fans to the extent possible in the post-cable desert. This hypothesis doesn’t hold up. NBC offered the Super Bowl on its streaming platform without charge, or even requiring registration. All those cableless bereft football fans had their chance. So how did those numbers hold up? NBC is very proud to report that a record number of people streamed the Super Bowl. It discreetly doesn’t do the math that would show that the total audience is still down.

When I wrote about this last year, I dismissed the theory that people were tuning out because of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem. I thought at the time that this was a seven day wonder, and the people bitching about it were virtue signalling. The issue has turned out to have staying power, with an assist from other players taking up the practice. The NFL, with its ineffectual flailing about, has managed the neat trick of pissing off both conservatives and liberals. This is surprising, because the NFL traditionally has been absolutely genius at marketing. They overplayed the conspicuous patriotism angle, opening the door to this wackiness.

The lefty-righty problem is a misstep that can in principle be corrected. Head trauma is not. Take away the head trauma and you take away the violence that many fans find appealing. Yet simply admitting that football is a blood sport is unlikely to go over well, either.

The final part of the picture is youth football. Anecdotally, participation in pre-teen football is way down. Reach the high school level and we don’t have to rely on anecdotes. There are real numbers.  They show that high school participation is down, and indeed peaked in either 2009 or 2013, depending on whether you look at absolute numbers or percent of eligible boys.

Lose the youth sports and the game becomes something different from what it is. Partly this will be the level of play, as athletic boys choose basketball–or even soccer!?!–rather than football.  The cultural shift will be a much bigger deal in the long run.  Football is, or was until very recently, a part of the American middle class experience. Having a kid on the high school team was normal and desirable, and your kids very well might go to the game even if they weren’t on the team. Keep on the path we are on, and letting your kid play football will be like keeping a pit bull ring in your back yard, and watching a game like laying down a bet on the fight.

I could be wrong. Perhaps the past two years will turn out to be a brief pause on the road to total NFL domination. Perhaps the Eagles will turn into a dynasty and the rest of the country will fall in love with Philly fans. But I don’t think so. I see a broad cultural shift. Right now the NFL is losing the casual fans, who were only there to be a part of the crowd. This will leave a substantial body of core fans, but I don’t see a path to attracting the next generation. I think we have passed peak NFL.

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Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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80 thoughts on “Where are we at with the NFL?

  1. A bill has been introduced in the Illinois legislature to ban tackle football for children younger than 12. The bill is named after Dave Duerson (the former Bears player that took his life at age 50 and penned a suicide note for his brain to be studied for science)

    I have no idea if the Duerson Act will pass, but similar to things like the Brady Bill, it attaches the face of human tragedy to an abstract concern. The proposal has elicited a lot of slippery-slope counter-arguments, which are fair. But the discussion itself tends to end up being framed as parents/kids should have the choice to take risks, so even if the bill doesn’t pass, it contributes to culture change.

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    • Anecdotally, my in-laws were huge football fans. They had two daughters, and so the “I’d love to watch my kids play football” got passed down to the grandkids.

      By the time my nephew started playing in the peewee leagues (8 year olds. Not so much tackles as falling down) they had transitioned from “I am dying to watch my kids and grandkids play football” to “Oh, let’s….watch kids risk concussions…..how about basketball? Soccer? Those sound fun!”.

      They enjoy watching him play, mostly because the league he’s in is again — they don’t do tackles yet. But they’re already worried about him continuing to play. This from people who were, just 15 or so years ago, absolutely die-hard fans hoping one of their grand-kids would play.

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      • NPR had a story a few months ago that might have been Duerson’s family (I missed the beginning), but it was about three generations. The first generation had siblings, maybe even cousins, that had made it in the NFL, substantially changing their families financial trajectory.

        The second generation, or at least the daughter being interviewed, grew up surrounded by football and appreciated all of its finer points and culture, but also saw her father decaying before her eyes too soon. Her attitude towards her own kids’ path was acceptance and support if they wanted to play football. It turned out her kid didn’t want to play football, he wanted to play soccer and she thought that was just fine too.

        It was kind of interesting in that the woman seems to have first-hand knowledge of all of the benefits and detriments of football, but her kid may have just been interested in what his friends were in to.

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        • My father went to college on a football/wrestling scholarship. He never encouraged me or my brothers to play. He once said he would have allowed it if we wanted to, but none of us did and he was happier for it. He had a severe cognitive decline in his final years. I can’t definitively pin it on football, but neither would this surprise me. I only have girls, so it isn’t an issue, but if I had boys I wouldn’t let them from playing football.

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          • I remember listening to soccer moms about 10-12 years ago share their strategies to keep their kids out of football. There was filling the schedule with alternatives to encourage another areas of interest, delay / avoidance techniques, and ultimately conditions. Of course, a parent can always say no, but parents have a lot of tools at their disposal, particularly with people living in places of lower density of children and more distance to organized activities.

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      • Heck, doesn’t doubles figure skating have:

        “Scripted”

        “Moves choreographed and rehearsed”

        “Participants exhibit substantial physical ability at least questionable theatrical skills”

        I guess it is fake too. :P

        PS – I know, the results are not pre-ordained (though for the conspiracy theorist out there) or ARE they?!?

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      • I guess it depends on what you mean by “fake.”

        Complaining that wresting is fake sorta seems to me like someone saying: ‘Man, I went to see Hamilton the other day. It was _so fake_. They didn’t even bother to explain how those people were here in the present, or why they looked different from historical records, or why they couldn’t see the audience!’

        Frankly, from a theatrical perspective, wrestling is pretty well-produced and extremely physically demanding performance art. I don’t really watch it, but I’ve seen enough to know what has to go into it.

        In theatre, I have seen a _month_ of rehearsals for a single fake fight, and I have no idea how wrestling manages to blend in each wrestler’s signature moves and throw each other around safely, and I’m pretty sure they don’t have the weeks of play-by-play rehearsals that such a thing would demand.

        It’s basically an improv stunt show, and both improv _and_ stunts are really really hard to do, so doing them _together_? Wow.

        The only real thing that seems iffy to me, the only criticism I have, is they are slightly too loose with the various personas and characterizations of individual wrestlers. People switching sides that often is not that plausible, but the real problem is the same actor (I guess that’s the term?) clearly switching their entire personality and being someone else. Which would be find if they were intended to actually be someone else, but, somehow, they’re still the same person.

        So I guess I’m saying that wrestling needs better writers for their non-stunt parts, their interactions outside the ring, because they have a hell of a lot of extremely good talent being handed stupid parts.

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        • In theatre, I have seen a _month_ of rehearsals for a single fake fight, and I have no idea how wrestling manages to blend in each wrestler’s signature moves and throw each other around safely, and I’m pretty sure they don’t have the weeks of play-by-play rehearsals that such a thing would demand.

          I wrestled every day of the week and twice on Sunday! I had more shower time than Hulk Hogan had ring time! Woooo! You see those (pauses) *ACTORS* have to practice for weeks for one fight? I wrestled for an hour! You’ve got those big tough guys coming into the ring with their big body builder muscles and you know what? After 20 minutes (starts huffing) after 30 minutes (really starts huffing) after 40 minutes (starts wheezing loudly) AND I’M JUST GETTING WARMED UP! WOOOO! I AM THE SIXTY MINUTE MAN! WOOOOOO! THEY’LL BE MINE *ALL* WOOOOO! *NIGHT* WOOOOO! *LONG*! WOOOOOOOOOOOO!

          Erm, I mean, there’s a toolbox. House shows are a way to practice for the televised shows and there are only but so many tools used in any given match.

          It’s like Taco Bell. They’re just rearranging the same 7 or so ingredients in new and interesting ways and changing the presentation.

          But they don’t need a whole bunch of ingredients to provide dozens of different things to enjoy.

          Stage Actors, by comparison, have to have *ONE* fight and it has to be done the *EXACT* same way EVERY NIGHT to tell a very specific story in service to a very specific plot/theme.

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          • House shows are a way to practice for the televised shows and there are only but so many tools used in any given match.

            ‘practice’ and ‘rehearsal’ aren’t really the same thing. Not being televised would let them try out new things that might not work, but they can’t work out how they are going to act in later matches. (Both because they can’t break character, and because, duh, they can’t just repeat a match.)

            It’s like Taco Bell. They’re just rearranging the same 7 or so ingredients in new and interesting ways and changing the presentation.

            Yeah. Like one of them picks a move, and somehow signals it, or just starts it, and the other is expected to go along with it. Maybe some high points get scripted, or some back and forth, but mostly they’re picking what is next from moment to moment.

            And who the hell knows what they do when the lights are off. Perhaps they do meet and run through things a few times, or at least the important stuff. I’m _sure_ they rehearse what they are going to say.

            It’s an incredibly demanding acting job that requires a lot of thinking on their feet and physicality. Like I said, I kinda wish they’d get some better writers, because the few glimpses of their plots I’ve seen and heard about don’t impress me at all.

            Granted, the wrestlers sometimes aren’t the greatest dramatic actors, either, but you work with the talent that can actually do the job. They could at least be handed good lines and stories.

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            • ” and because, duh, they can’t just repeat a match.”

              They pretty close to can, though? And often do. They’ll go through the same set of moves nearly identically 3 or 4 times in subsequent dark matches before it shows up on TV.

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              • Are they? I really have no idea.

                I was about to say that seems weird for fans to accept, but, OTOH, they somehow accept being shown clearly prerecorded videos by camera people that cannot possibly be there, which is just as weird.

                Wrestling has a very strange fourth-wall.

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                • No one goes to more than one house show (aka “dark” because they’re not taping) in a row unless they are such rabid fans that they don’t care about seeing the same matches twice.

                  Professional wrestling is constantly on the move from city to city, they’re always on tour (sometimes they even split up and play 2 venues at the same time)…

                  So they can run the same show in Co Springs tonight that they ran in Fort Collins yesterday, and no one will care, because the audiences for those two non-taped shows are completely different. Only the superfans are paying attention to that stuff and *they* either don’t care, or are intensely and willingly suspending disbelief.

                  Kayfabe requires the active collusion of everyone except those too young to have stopped believing in Santa Claus, so yes, the fourth wall is quite different from that of other entertainments. Or maybe not all that different, I mean, there are cameramen in every bedroom in a soap opera…

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  2. …why Americans don’t (to a first approximation) play soccer…

    More accurately, perhaps, to phrase this as why Americans stop playing soccer. Up to a certain age, at least where I live, it’s probably the #1 participation sport for young people. One morning last summer, on a bicycle ride, I saw a group of at least a hundred teenage girls stretching in one of the big greenway parks. I asked the group of parents what it was. “Girls summer soccer camp.” The Denver metro area has a staggering number of full- and reduced-size soccer fields (can’t expect the littlies to play on a full-sized field).

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    • What you describe is a fairly recent phenomenon. I played youth soccer at the YMCA in the 1970s. While this wasn’t a weird thing to do, the sense was that this normalcy was new, and I was aware of discussions about how my generation playing the game would lead to big-time professional soccer. Why this hasn’t really happened, though MLS is doing interesting things, is one question. The other is why was youth soccer a new thing, back in the 1970s, when so much of the world had been rabid about the game long before?

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      • Football and basketball are really the only well moneyed sports. Sports with long histories and fan bases like baseball or hockey aren’t’ money makers. Stuff like track, which americans are hugely successful at doens’t make money. Same with skiing or tennis or gymnastics. Lots of people involved, no money.

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        • I think you might want to check that re: baseball. There’s enough money in baseball to support a total MLB player payroll of something on the order of $3.6 billion. Major market teams make major market money. Not-quite-so-major market teams cultivate regional and cult status and to my knowledge, if they are marketed well can be comfortably profitable and can support sufficient payroll to get marketable players on staff. People might wonder if Yoenis Cespedes is worth $29,000,000 a year, and the answer is almost certainly “yes,” he more than pays for himself.

          I concede that TV in big markets is a substantial part of that and creating one’s own network to broadcast one’s own game appears to be part of the puzzle today, which is an issue given generally declining TV viewership. But if anything, our more atomized media consumption will assist in teams located in metro areas of less than five million people to reach their potential audiences and generate direct viewing revenue as well as advertising dollars.

          That’s not been figured out all the way, not every team will have the same solution, not not every team will figure it out at the same time. The sweet spot will be a moving target until technological advances in disseminating game viewership settles, but have every confidence that it’ll get figured out and fans’ dollars will be suctioned out of their wallets to their great delight for the indefinite future.

          I’m less confident about the economics of hockey, but I notice the NHL is expanding, not contracting.

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          • For one thing the NHL is the worst run “major” sports league ever. Their expansions have always been flaming Tim Horton’s dumpster fires.

            I was talking about college sports. Of course i committed the word college since i was responding to Oscar’s comment. I guess that makes me a real Sockdollager.

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            • So I presume you consider the stemwinder season the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights are currently enjoying to be a hallmark of the NHL’s mistakes rather than the result of a good decision to stack the deck in favor of the Knights.

              Either way, it’s risible to think that this result was not the result of the NHL putting its thumb on the scale. Indeed, the rest of its hand, and really, enough arm strength to strain its elbow.

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              • The NHL has a long history of expanding to the southern states to have the team crash, burn then run over by a zombie Zamboni. See Phoenix. I don’t follow hockey anymore but throughout the 90’s and 00’s expansion problems plagued the league along with a disastrous strike.

                I’m not all that certain professional major sports will do that well in Vegas. I like Vegas but it seems like most of the attendance will be casino comps leaving the team with a mediocre fan base.

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                • MLS is currently emulating the old NHL strategy. Add to this that it is starting from essentially zero TV money, and expanding while TV viewership is in decline.

                  The NHL at least had a plausible strategy. The idea was to expand into non-traditional markets while building itself up as a national television product. That first part depended on the second to work, so when the TV audiences failed to materialize the results were not pretty. But it could have worked. MLS? Google ‘MLS Ponzi scheme’.

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                • They need to embiggen the sheet. Think about the evolution of the NBA: players got bigger, stronger, quicker and gobbled up floor space to such an extent that the game evolved into a scrum for control of the paint. But unlike hockey, the NBA found a solution to open up the floor again: the three point shot. The NHL needs to make an equivalent move to open up space for stars to perform and team strategy/identity to shine. Embiggen The Sheet! ((And ensmallen goalie equipment too.))

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                  • Its a common idea out there, but it doesn’t work that way. Leagues playing on the wider international ice surface tend to have less offense and a more boring playing style than the what you see on a North American rink.

                    Essentially, that extra space doesn’t get used productively to increase offense, all it does is create a dead zone near the boards where its relatively difficult to attack the net and encourages the defending team to fort up in front of the net rather than battle for the puck in the fringes of the zone. Extra space is worthless if if doesn’t create more space in offensively relevant areas. Plust the extra space lessens the mistakes from fast paced player interactions that create scoring oportunities.

                    The better way to increase offense is to call the rule book more stringently, which both increases the power play opportunites and limits the ability of less skilled players to impeded their more talented opponents from making plays. The structural difficulty of this is that coaches love obstruction because its better for building team defensive systems (most NHL coaches see their value in maximizing defense rather than maximizing offense) and the GMs like it because it artificially boosts league parity, which helps them keep their jobs.

                    Vegas this year is making a good showing of why it doesn’t have to be this way. The vagaries of the expansion rules meant they could select an entire team’s worth of mid-tier offensive players at forward. So they took an entire lineups worth of relatively quick and moderately skilled forwards you can send in waves, to play fast and aggressive, shift after shift.

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        • It’s really football as the big money maker, with baseball and basketball on a much lower second tier. Soccer does well, but not MLS.

          Forbes List of the 50 most valuable sports franchises in the world (2016):

          NFL: 27 teams
          European Soccer: 8 teams
          NBA: 8 teams
          MLB: 7 teams

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  3. I am the resident non-sports guy here but the NFL always struck me as being the most right-wing and jingoistic of sports in their marketing. This started with the Hank Williams Jr song in the 1980s but also included making Rush Limbaugh a color commentator in the late 1990s or early aughts. I suppose the Colon Killpatrick thing goes both ways.

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    • You are right that the NFL has always wrapped itself in the flag, but the specific mechanism of the current protests, of players kneeling during the national anthem, only became possible when the NFL started bringing the players onto the field before the anthem. Up until a few years ago, they were still in the locker room. It’s not clear, at least to me, why they made the change, but it exposed the NFL to what is in retrospect a self-inflicted wound. Baseball players have lined up for the anthem since forever. I suspect that the absence of protests reflects the ethnic makeup of baseball versus football. This raises the question of the NBA. I only barely follow it. I don’t know of any similar protests, but that could be merely my inattention.

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      • Basketball has always been an “urban” sport. Football always struck me as saying they were a “real Amurica”/heartland sport. Basketball conjures images of urban blacktops. Football conjures images of fields of wheat and pick up trucks.

        Baseball strikes me as the most mixed politically and otherwise. Urban and rural. Left and right. Etc. IIRC the Brooklyn Dodgers were the scrappy team that lefty types liked and the Yankees were liked by more conservatives. I think Mets fans also lean left compared to the Yankees.

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        • Soccer or has everybody else calls it is really the most political of all team sports. The NFL wraps it up in the flag but they also know that many Democratic voting Americans in urban areas love football to. The owners aren’t going to let it get too Republican and alienate tens of millions of fans who happen to vote Democratic or are apolitical.

          From my understanding, association football gets distinctly political in Europe with teams having distinct associations with political parties. If you vote for x party, your team is why. Other tribal affiliations are common. The Dutch football team Ajax has somehow become seen as a “Jewish” team even though the Netherlands doesn’t have that many Jews. Ajax fans have been known to cheer their team on with Israeli songs. Many European far right groups originated in clubs of football fans apparently.

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          • From my understanding, association football gets distinctly political in Europe with teams

            Always has, as exemplified by the Rangers and Celtics, both of Glasgow, being respectively the Protestant and Catholic clubs.

            The difference here is we have a different organizational model for professional team sports, featuring territorial rights. Only the very largest cities have more than one team per sport. Fandom therefore is based regionally, regardless of politics or ethnicity.

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            • Our organizational model is also geared more towards business people making lots of money than the European football clubs were originally. Professional sports in the United States became a big money operation a lot earlier than they did in Europe. Many of the earlier European football clubs were literally clubs of people who liked to play football.

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            • I basically prefer a regional model. Hailing from Wisconsin as I do, I can use Green Bay Packers swag to identify myself and signal to other Wisconsinites (whether by origin or affinity) that we have something in common, and this serves as a social catalyst.

              Indeed, a sufficiently gregarious person (and the level of sufficiency need not be particularly high) can use this as a social catalyst for fans of rival teams, with an exchange of good-natured trash talk serving as the opening gambit of a conversation rather than mutual declarations of support and encouragement.

              Until the moral signalling business, this transcended politics. It seemed to take the place of cigarettes and matches as those have fallen out of style. As it is, I’m still a bit gobsmacked that in the Great Cultural Divorce going on between Team Red and Team Blue, the more intense of the Reds have apparently chosen to give football to us Blues.

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        • I think Richard was referring to the demographics of the players, the people who might be expected to protest. There are very few African-Americans who play in the MLB, but about 30% of players are foreign-born. Not as likely to stage a protest.

          (The whites probably come from all over, but seem to be shifted towards the Sun-Belt, and rural or suburban. A frequent background appears to be good at football in high school, but wasn’t big enough or went for the longer career option.)

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          • One of the biggest issues I have with sports is how locals will refer to the guys on a team as “our boys”. In the case of the Giants, most of them are not our boys. The Chronicle had a big article on one of our boys and it turns out he prefers to spend as much time on his North Carolina farm as humanly possible. He might come here for the money but he isn’t seeing himself as a San Franciscan.

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      • One difference might be that baseball is (essentially) a daily game, while football is weekly, and baseball relies heavily on youth groups to perform the anthem (and sell some parent seats during the slow weekday games). At least that is the case in St. Louis.

        After kneeling became a thing, I recall watching my son’s middle school band perform near where the starting pitcher was warming up and wondering what I would feel if Carlos Martinez demonstrated. I don’t think I’d have liked it; I don’t know that I would have been pissed about it. I do wonder if it would deflate support for the trip.

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      • The NBA has long had a rule requiring standing during the anthem. This boiled up when Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand and was suspended. He worked out an agreement with the league where he would stand but look down, usually praying quietly to himself.

        The league did have some BLM-related demonstrations, including major superstars wearing “I can’t breathe” shirts during warmups or posing in hoodies in response to Trayvon Martin.

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  4. I think another comparison is needed. How are the other ‘major’ sports doing TV wise? Is NBA and MLB down in ratings year-over-year as well (could add in NHL and MLS I guess but they might be too small to compare). If they are down as well, then I can believe the cord cutting hit being true, if not then there is something else causing it.

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      • But there is a little bit of the old Chris Rock joke in there…

        If Roger Goodell woke up and the Super Bowl had the ratings that the NBA finals did… he’d jump out a window.

        I think even the Pro Bowl tends to trump championship action in other sports.

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    • MLB TV is really hard to get a handle on, since it is thoroughly fragmented. This is representative of how popularity comparisons between baseball and football are hard to do quantitatively. Attendance numbers? Are we talking per game, or per season? If you pick one and ignore the other, this tells me what was your desired conclusion, but nothing much beyond that. We can do the same thing with the World Series and the Super Bowl. The 2017 WS averaged 18.9 million viewers per game. This seems pathetic compared with the SB’s 103.4 million, unless you multiply that 18.9 times seven. Is that valid? I can easily think of arguments both ways.

      The key difference is that MLB plays ten times as many games as the NFL. Everything else derives from this. One the one hand, it gives baseball a huge advantage in any revenue source that is on a per game basis. On the other hand, it makes football games individually more important. If your baseball team loses the first to games of the season it is a disappointment. If your football team loses its first two games it is a disaster. And so on.

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    • Local baseball ratings appear to be doing very well to the extent they can be uncovered, link, and TV revenues have been soaring. In the 25 media markets with an MLB franchise, MLB games are the highest rated cable program, up from 22 markets the year before.

      I believe Richard has written about whether the contracts are bubbles dependent upon cable-TV, which is certainly a concern for the future, but I think only to the extent that regional advertising has unique benefits in the largest markets.

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      • Thanks for the link, and good article. Note in particular toward the end the discussion about how teams are going to have to bite the bullet about local streaming. That is going to be the hard part, as it will break the “everyone pays for baseball, whether they watch it or not” financial model. But it absolutely will have to be done.

        I am, however, impressed by how well MLB’s numbers have held up. They are down a bit, but much less than NLF’s. And baseball being regional, more random noise is to be expected, depending on which regions are good this year and which are bad.

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  5. A couple of scattered thoughts…

    How do the numbers account for channels like the Red Zone? That has become my primary means of watching games most Sundays.

    Mark Cuban might be right; the addition of a weekly Thursday game may have oversaturated the market. I often skip the Thursday game and Sundays feel a little less special. I run a weekly pick’em pool and where I used to think, “Okay, MNF is in the books… I have a few days to process last week and turnaround the next week,” I now have to have everything ready by Tuesday morning so that folks have time to prepare for the Thursday game. This feels like a net negative. The cyclical nature of the football week has been disrupted and I don’t like it.

    What are the numbers for college football? These might be hard to parse because the proliferation of conference or even school-specific networks might make trends inherently apples-to-oranges, but that might give insight into how much of the downturn is about the NFL, how much is about football, and how much is about shifting habits in entertainment consumption.

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    • So far as I can tell, the official numbers pretty much ignore Red Zone. Presumably the NFL has numbers for it, but keep them in a separate box.

      I absolutely believe in the over-exposure theory. The NFL traditionally has been great at making every game an event. But put on more games than most people have time to watch, and you are training them to ignore these supposed events, which is to say you are training them that these aren’t such big events after all.

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      • And there actually exist two Red Zone channels… one via DirectTV and one on the cable networks.

        I wonder if we are being too limited in looking only at viewership numbers. If I understand correctly, fantasy football (more than other fantasy sports) is exploding. What is that worth? Probably not everything but also probably not nothing.

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  6. One other thing that might be leading to the struggles of the NFL is that the game play has become slower due to replay and every big game seems to have between 1-99 breaks where refs try to figure out what the correct ruling is. We watch the play 17 times from 6 different angles while rules lawyers debate the nature of existence and the quantum nature of catching the ball. Nobody completely understands the various rules and they have a frickin retired ref to help us figure it out. We watch refs staring at screens on the field. Then half the time the ruling still doesn’t’ make sense.

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    • Yes yes yes! My own suggestions for improving the NFL experience would be to eliminate the mandatory review at the 2 minute mark; limit the review process on coaches challenges to 1 minute (clear and indisputable evidence is *also* obvious evidence), and shorten the play clock from 40 seconds to 26 seconds.

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    • There’s a big push in the English Premier League right now for the introduction of VAR-video assisted review. If ever there was a sport that was unsuited for frequent stoppages for video review, it’s soccer.

      MLS uses video review and I absolutely despise it.

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        • Holy heck….var in soccer…..!!!!!…what a forkin terrible idea. It’s works terribly in a sport that already has frequent stops.

          Sorry, but what are you talking about? Compared to football, and baseball, soccer practically has no stops.

          Wasn’t the complaint in the old days that soccer was unsuitable for TV because there was no cuts to put commercials in?

          Not that I want var in soccer either

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      • I’m not a huge soccer fan, but I disagree. I think goals should be reviewable. So many games swing on such small margins that a blown goal on goal-or-not (as in, did the ball cross the line) is too big an error to allow.

        I would not want replay on fouls. I’d actually suggest we add more refs; my theory is that flopping is as prevalent as it is because we are often asking someone to make the call from a great distance so they are more likely to react to a dramatic fall that they can see than the subtleness of contact they can’t detect. The system basically incentivizes flopping. Odd more field refs.

        Offsides? Ideally, they’d be a lot better at this but it’d be really hard to review in practice, unless you simply didn’t call it and only enforced it after a questionable goal was scored.

        So… yes for goals, no for fouls, maybe for offsides, and more refs on the field.

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        • Most of the time, whether a goal was made or not is pretty obvious. But there’s always going to be tough calls.

          Here’s a silly thought: no refs on the pitch. Instead, fly 22 drones — one on each player. The one on the keeper can control whether a goal was actually made or not.

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          • So we have a goal replay how often? Once every few games? What’s the harm? I remember a WC game a few tourneys back… I believe England v Germany… with a missed goal because of a funny bounce where it hit the cross bar, bounced down and (clearly on replay) in and then back out onto the pitch due to spin… no goal. Would have taken 30 seconds to correct.

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            • Spain was kicked out of a World Cup quarterfinals because the referee disawolled their goal against South Korea , a goal that was clear to everyone watch8ng live (not even close), but that he didn’t see.

              And kicked out they stayed

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