Why the NFL Rules The Universe
This morning I read a story in The Athletic (which I highly recommend) about how the NFL is putting the NFL Combine out to bid to all 32 teams. Realistically, only about 10 of the 32 stadiums can host it — but this is just the latest example of the NFL and Roger Goodell making it rain.
Other major leagues have similar combines. The NBA has a summer league. The NHL has their own thing. But even the most diehard fan would have a hard time seeking it out — IF they wanted to seek it out. Quick: when was the last time you had a conversation with someone about ‘Did you see player X at the combine?’ That’s what I thought.
We already know how ESPN took a nothing event — the NFL draft-and made it appointment viewing. The NFL’s first reaction when ESPN proposed it was ‘Why the hell would you be interested in THAT?’ And indeed the first telecasts were Pete Rozelle reading picks from a podium in a run down conference room. Now, the draft is part of the NFL package that ESPN/ABC pays over $1 billion for.
The combines seem to be more about cities fighting amongst themselves for the right. I read the City of Indianapolis says the combines bring in $10 million a year — a number that will no doubt increase in the years ahead. Where the NFL — and cities- will score is when this package goes up for bid. You don’t think Dallas or LA is going to make a pre-emptive move for the combine like FOX did in 1993 when they bid what, at the time, was a ridiculous amount for the NFC package? All it did was rise FOX as the TV home of Al Bundy and Bart Simpson to a legitimate fourth network. And if that meant getting Ryan Seacrest and Joe Buck as part of the package; so be it.
Whomever wins the bid on the combine (I think it will be Indianapolis) will have to raise its game. You’ll see more of it on TV. You’ll see more of what Roone Arledge called in his famous memo ‘bringing show business to sports’ (a memo which foreshadowed sports on TV today almost exactly. And a more modest man you would not fine than Roone)
People say February is a slow month for sports. I disagree. We’ve got a lot of good stuff — maybe not ‘Jews In Space’ as Mel Brooks gleefully announced would be featured in History of the World Part II (and God bless Mel Brooks, I love him), but we’ve got the end of the college basketball season, the tournaments and of course March Madness. We’ve got Coach K’s farewell tour (I’m not a Duke fan, but by all accounts Coach K is a good man, a good husband and a good dad) NASCAR is underway and they’ve got a great storyline with Austin Cindrick — a rookie- winning the Daytona 500. The NBA and NHL are in the home stretch and two major contenders (the 76ers and Nets) just made a seismic deal that will shake things up in the East. There’s even compelling not fun stories — the Uncle Miltie Memorial going on between MLB and it’s players that should have been settled two years ago.
And yet all of it — all of it- is overshadowed by the NFL. The Super Bowl is a distant memory, as is the coaching carousel, but we’re already on to 2022. Where is Jimmy G going to go? (My guess: Pittsburgh) Who will take who in the draft? What other hypothetical trades will go on? In the same way baseball calls this the Hot Stove League, I call this the Central AC League, and it’s 85 degrees outside and feels like 100. (And I don’t have to worry about anyone stealing that from me because on most days I can count the number of readers I have on one hand. Which is fine — I’m trying to find my voice on here, and it’ll take a while. Bear with me, it’ll be worth it.)
And as far as you haters who want Roger Goodell gone, forget it. It’ll never happen. Goodell is not only making it rain, it’s a Category 5 hurricane with 225 MPH gusts that make Katrina look like a spring shower. The most powerful executives in corporate America want to make it rain like Goodell does, let alone other commissioners (including Adam Silver, who I think is awesome, and Don Garber, who has made soccer matter in this country)
Gregg Easterbrook (TMQ) of whom I am a fan, and whom I consider an influence, has said many times that there is no rule that football must remain popular. But right now it sure as hell looks like a runaway freight train. Then again, so did horse racing and boxing several generations ago and look what happened there.
As always, stay tuned.