With NFL camps opening up over the weekend to begin the 2017-2018 pro football season, I think it’s time to look at where the sport is going in the next few years.
Let me preface this by saying that there are few more passionate football fans than me. I live and breathe by the fate of the New York Jets. I have had this passion since Joe Namath ran off the field in Miami’s Orange Bowl in January 1969. It was the first bet I ever won for a $1 against a friend of my father’s.
So it pains me to say that this season is likely the apex for the NFL. In 7 years — perhaps less — professional football will be out of business as we know it today.
It sounds impossible given its popularity, but football cannot survive as it is now.
Hanging over everything is a court battle that will likely leave the league on the hook for more than a billion dollars in concussion-related liabilities.
The new study released last week on the link between playing football and CTE — chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain disease associated with concussions — has found that of 111 former NFL players tested, 110 were found to have the disease.
The movie “Concussion” elevated the conversation in pop culture. Though the NFL tried to limit the damage — it pulled out of funding the concussion study cited above in 2015 at Boston University — officials realize what’s coming. Besides the direct costs, the lawsuits could force major changes to the game.
That’s why NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is trying to squeeze out every penny of profit now. While football has always wrung fans with things like “personal seat licenses” and television networks with sky-high licensing fees, pairing with gambling companies like instant fantasy football is the first initiative that takes the league into a gray area that can hurt the game. And that’s facing a court battle as well.
Playing Thursday night games in different uniforms in the name of selling more jerseys has seen pushback from fans and critics.
Expanding internationally is dilutive not additive. Unless I missed something, England still prefers that other football. Why all the experimentation?
I would venture a guess that there is report at the NFL’s Park Avenue headquarters on the state of the game in 2020, and it doesn’t look good.
Besides the costs of concussions other NFL’s challenges include:
- Football culture: Not a season goes by without multiple members of the league making news for horrendous acts — on and off the field. The game is moving toward a pro-wrestling culture, which will backfire with fans.
- Lack of supply: There are tens of thousands of football fields in the US that do not see a game played on anymore. Parents telling their children to play soccer, lacrosse, even rugby, because of fears of permanent injury.
- Madison Ave.: You are already seeing advertisers moving away from using pro athletes in their campaigns. As Peyton Manning retired, who will be the face of the NFL for national advertisers? Not Tom Brady or Eli Manning. Yes, you have a handful of companies that are in love with pro football and as of now the league still delivers a desirable demographic, but where are today’s “heroes” to build a future that Madison Avenue can invest in so it’s not so easy for them to walk away should the public begin to turn away?
Many will say that this proposition is crazy and cannot happen. I would point to Penn State, where a statue on campus of its great football coach Joe Paterno was toppled over an assistant coach’s criminal behavior.
Today public opinion — rightly or wrongly — swings with the speed of light. One player brutally crippled, like Darryl Stingley, will create a meme on Facebook that can mark the two-minute warning for the game.
So enjoy the games this season, because this is another American tradition that will soon go by the wayside.