Sunday is gearing up to be a big day for football fans as the AFC and NFC Championship games will go off at 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., respectively.
The NFC side will see a no-love-lost rivalry between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. (We’ve got the ‘Hawks in that one.)
In the AFC, we have yet another — and probably, the final — post-season match-up between two of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. (Patriots will win that one, only because I’m pulling for the Broncos. I’d fake being a New England fan, but Fate would see right through it.)
Anyhow, we should be excited for Sunday (and we are), but that doesn’t mean we’re particularly pleased with the league right now.
In fact, we’d say the NFL is on the verge of leaving its Golden Age, if it hasn’t already darted out the door. 2014 will be a make-or-break year for the National Football League. It can either be the year that catapults the game into a new level of success, or it can be the beginning of a national shift away from it, and on to other sports.
First Of All, The DirecTV Deal Is Close To Done.
It’s hard to call the DirecTV contract for exclusive rights to NFL Sunday Ticket a financially losing proposition. It’s not. In fact, the league earns $ 1 billion each year through that partnership. For now. But a lot has changed since that deal was initially inked. Viewers have left cable in droves. Those who haven’t are planning their escape. One of the only sticking points is access to the NFL.
However, a growing number of us are learning to live without it. In my house, this was the second consecutive season that we didn’t watch a single regular season game. For the playoffs, a trip to Hooters or another local sports bar will probably be in order. Same with the Super Bowl. It’s getting more difficult to watch it at a friend’s house because they’re like me — discovering they can live without it.
That’s not to say that I wouldn’t watch every single game if it was available to me — if there was a way that I could pay to access it on my AppleTV or Xbox 360 or Roku 2XD. I would. But thus far, it isn’t an option. I could always find a pirate stream on Twitter, I suppose, but a) That’s dishonest; and b) The quality and dependability are questionable at best. (So I’ve heard.)
No, I want my NFL in HD, and I’m begging someone from the organization to take my money for it without forcing me to buy a standard cable package, only five percent of which I’d ever use. No one will.
Secondly, Other Sports Are Getting It Right.
It’s times like these that I start to develop an appreciation for sports that halfway respect their fans and don’t limit access. UFC, MLB, NHL, and MLS — all of these organizations are getting it right.
UFC gets a little costly on pay-per-views, but they don’t limit access. MLB and NHL are extremely affordable if you pick them up on the set-top boxes. Same with MLS, which grants its customers access to all the most recent games and a staggering amount of backlogged content.
These organizations love their fans and they’re hip to the direction of things. Also, if you’re in to wrestling — many football fans are — the recent move by WWE is a prime example of how to respond to the changing television landscape. Just $ 9.99 per month. Content that goes on forever. Free access to PPVs as a result of subscribing. Incredible.
Now, I know the NFL-DirecTV deal was done prior to this level of consumer-friendliness, so the NFL gets a bit of a free pass until we see what they decide to do with the future of NFL Sunday Ticket. (They’re considering multiple options at this point, with recent reports indicating they’re near renewal with DirecTV.)
However, the fact they force-blackout games that are playing in the local market — even for customers who’ve paid the premium Sunday Ticket price — and they don’t include Thursday and Monday night games, is a clear indication their collective head isn’t in the right place.
It’s absurd. You pay $ 350, you should have access to everything. But the NFL is protecting a dying model by propping up providers, who refuse to innovate.
Finally, They’re Wussifying The Game.
Football players understand the risks of the game. Lord knows I had my share of bumps and bruises when I played. Still, it was my decision to be out there. Most of these guys feel the same way. It doesn’t mean we institute rules that intentionally try to get a player injured, but it does mean that you stop trying to protect people by fundamentally changing what makes the game unique. While no one wants to see a serious life- or career-threatening injury, that’s part of it. It’s what anyone who’s ever fastened a chinstrap understands from their first day of practice. The league’s continual targeting of rules to “protect” one class of player is slowly but surely neutering the game. Furthermore, it doesn’t really seem to be helping.
Case in point, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel rightly speculated earlier in the season that with new NFL tackling rules, there will be more low hits, citing the injury on Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb in a game against the Baltimore Ravens.
So what’s next — fines for low hits as well? They’re actually “looking at it.” Ugh.
If players are fined for every collision — whether intentional or unintentional — it’s going to affect the way they play. As former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said, “You know what we should do? We should just put flags on everybody. Let’s make it the NFFL — the National Flag Football League. It’s unbelievable.” That still rings true, unfortunately.
It used to be so easy to crash in front of the TV on a Sunday morning and not move until the Sunday Night Football broadcast was done. But with league misfires like not respecting their customers, giving up ground to more innovative sports organizations, and taking the fire out of the game we all fell in love with, I see dark times ahead for the NFL. A cross-platform streaming option will help. So will getting rid of Roger Goodell. But the question that remains: Is NFL leadership smart enough to make the right calls?
[Featured Image via TheCasaofElHanlo.files.wordpress.com]