The Lo Down: Cuban Comments Forecast NFL Implosion
The NFL returns to the limelight this weekend after a short hiatus.
It was just three months since we last heard from the National Football League. The Seahawks were crowned Super Bowl champions as we put our football attention spans into hibernation.
As football’s popularity grows, the “off-season” continues to shrink. But in that short period of time, Mark Cuban entrepreneur/investor/and Dallas Mavericks NBA owner had some choice criticisms for America’s most popular sport, suggesting that one day their popularity would fade, on the brink of over-saturation.
Many flew to the NFL’s defense, but it made me wonder: Could it ever happen? There’s certainly precedent for such a decay: professional boxing, horse racing. Even baseball once held the crown as the top league only to lose ground and suffer immense struggles after the 1994 strike. So here is a list of what might cause Cuban’s prediction to become reality.
Sure the existing labor force seems content with the risks of playing football, but across America it seems new parents are not as comfortable with the risks. A recent study showed a 9.5-percent decline in Pop Warner football participation from 2010 to 2012. Clearly the message is getting to parents, and if kids aren’t playing when they are young, then they aren’t developing an interest to watch later.
There’s no shortage of options these days, on television or in person. The term athlete means so much more now than it did 30 years ago. The expansion of extreme-sports into youth culture; the skateboarders, bikers, skiers, etc. They've invented a whole new category of individual sports that have allowed athletes options beyond the traditional team. Not to mention that the traditional sports are facing competition from new more cosmopolitan and worldly sports (lacrosse, rugby and soccer) have formed professional leagues in the United States and continue to make inroads with youth outreach building an organically cultivated audience.
Soccer (aka Football to the rest of the world)
You could argue in the past America wanted nothing to do with two widely adopted international traits the metric system and soccer. Now 20 years since the United States hosted the World Cup, it seems soccer is on the verge of joining the other mainstream sports, and audiences are ready to join the rest of the world. Strengthening this move, the downturn in youth-football signups have also correlated with an upturn in youth-soccer participation. Even major TV networks are investing large in soccer’s potential. NBC recently acquired the TV rights to the Barclay’s Premier League for $250 million over three years.
Too much TV
Currently the NFL can do no wrong when it comes to television ratings. But how long until excitement around game broadcasts becomes “just another program.” Sure, events like the Super Bowl, playoffs and rivalries are insulated in a sense, but the NFL needs to be cautious not to make their televised events so frequent that appeal and ratings begin to decline. (I’m looking at you NBA and MLB: With so many games, who knows which are important and which are not?).
For the upcoming season the NFL has agreed to broadcast games on Thursday evenings via CBS and will also showcase a few games on Saturday in the final week of the season (perhaps investigating the potential of a 5-day football weekend…Is that still a weekend?)
It is no secret the past few seasons NFL stadiums have reported declining attendance across the country. Furthermore, risk of local-blackouts seem like a standard story for every season now (once a rare occurrence). While there is no single smoking gun explaining this decline I would look to the logic of basic economics.
The price of attendance continues to rise while the value of game attendance doesn’t necessarily change. If anything, seats have continued to grow farther from the field and prices have continued to escalate. The cheapest ticket to a Patriots game is $75 dollars before fees, parking and concessions. And as TV becomes a more significant player, TV is also dictating when games are played which doesn’t help physical attendance. Attendance is best on weekends. Unfortunately it’s the exact opposite truth when it comes to TV broadcasts (so remember that the next time you want to attend a Monday Night Football game).
There’s no silver bullet that is going to make the NFL disappear overnight. As a sports-fan and NFL fan, I hope it never does. However Mark Cuban’s comments certainly placed a sense of perspective that nothing is forever. Just ask that to horse races and professional boxing.
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