The NFL will sprint away from controversy more quickly than viewers are fleeing its product so Colin Kaepernick was exonerated when it comes to the league’s falling television ratings but everything else was left on the table when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the issue at the fall owners meetings in Houston on Wednesday.
The commissioner, nor the league’s broadcast partners, believe player protests during the National Anthem have played any role in the drop despite the #BoycottNFL social media presence that has spawned from them but did point out a number of other potential issues.
And Goodell was correct when he claimed there is no “single reason” for the double-digit percentage dip in eyeballs taking in the product because it’s been a cocktail of factors, starting with the trainwreck that is the presidential election.
Others ideas broached by the commissioner were particular matchups, where the games are actually being aired (NFL Network and cable options vs. traditional over-the-air stations), and how certain demographics “consume” the games, a direct nod to social media and streaming options.
There are plenty of other ingredients in this stew as well, including the obvious downgrade
to the aesthetic part of the game, something Goodell actually did surprisingly allude to.
Predictably he ignored the over legislation of the product because the safety issue is always paramount in the league’s mind with pending and future litigation assured.
However, someone in this league, whether it be the commissioner himself, or Dean Blandino, has to realize the over-proliferation of flags are not all safety based and there are ways to improve the product by scaling back the ticky-tack fouls officials are currently encouraged to call like Vernon Davis’ celebration jump shot over the crossbar and his teammate Josh Norman’s bow-and-arrow gesture.
To the general public, clamping down on “taunts” like that goes far further than the cliched “No Fun League” and moves into the domain of silliness. Goodell, though, disagreed.
“I don’t think there’s been a year where we don’t look at this issue,” he claimed when talking about celebrations. “…We do believe that our players are role models and others look at that at the youth level, so that’s important for us to hold that standard up and it’s part of being a professional.”
There is one aspect, however, that Goodell hit on that is very important when discussing the sloppiness of certain games and that is the lack of practice time under the current CBA.
“Practice makes perfect” may be a cliche but it’s always true in that the more repetitions you get doing anything in life is going to make you better at it and the huge scale backs in practice time, both in the offseason and in-season, as well as the limited number of padded practices, is blamed by nearly every coach in this league as one of the major reasons you will see for subpar play.
“I think that’s something that will be discussed in the context of the collective bargaining agreement. That undoubtedly will come up.” Goodell claims.
As for turning around the decline?
In the short term, that might be as simple as waiting for Nov. 8 and Election Day to pass but that’s like putting a band-aid on a broken leg if you take that uptick as anything more than cursory.
The NFL is alienating viewers and must address the flaws in its product before the tipping point is reached.
“Everyone’s got theories,” Goodell said. “Our ratings are something that we’ll continue to look at and try to make sure we’re doing everything, not just to get them tuned in but to get them to stay tuned in.”
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SB Nation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America