NFL ratings dip and concern increases

Pundits are coming up with all sorts of reasons for the dip in NFL ratings, even though the league remains our nation’s popular sports league.

Many are pointing to the current presidential election as the reason for the lower NFL ratings. This is the sort of campaign that we’ve never seen before and it has created record ratings for the cable news networks. Others are pointing to a lack of stars (Peyton Manning has retired, Tom Brady just returned to the field). Others say the National Anthem protests have turned some fans off, while others point to a handful of teams that haven’t been good for at least a decade. (Think Cleveland, Miami, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Chicago, etc.)

NFL ratings
NFL ratings are down and the reason is an oversaturated market.

The presidential election is an interesting answer because, as Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported this morning, NFL ratings tend to sag a bit during presidential election years.

However, the drop has been even greater this time. Ratings are down 13.4% from last season, nearly double the drop of the worst election year decrease of 2000 (the Bush-Gore race). Is it just because Donald Trump has turned this election into a carnival act that’s accomplished the decline?

Over saturation has created the NFL ratings drop.

I don’t think so. I think there is something else brewing here. Mark Cuban predicted this NFL ratings decrease a few years ago because the league has oversaturated the market.

I agree, and think the NFL needs to think about what it can do to make its games more important. Right now, you practically get the NFL 24/7. There’s the NFL Network, there is a game every Thursday night and, last Sunday, there were four back-to-back games with an early contest airing from London in the morning.

Scarcity is actually a value, and one that’s hard to come by in today’s world. The internet and social media gives us access to anything at any moment, so scarcity is hard to come by. To be scarce enough to create importance means you must take control of your brand.

Think about Krispy Kreme. It held a cherished spot because access to it was hard to find, becoming the darling of Wall Street and southerners. I had relatives visit me (here in North Carolina) who wanted to go to a Krispy Kreme first thing.

Then Krispy Kreme went on an expansion kick, and the value of the brand quickly became diluted. The NFL has been on a different kind of expansion kick, and its lower ratings are the result.

Now, maybe we see returned spike after the election (although don’t think the news cycle will completely go away) and as the playoff races heat up. But the larger problem still exists. For the NFL ratings to return to normal levels, the league needs to slow down its plans to expand into Europe, eliminate the Thursday night games (which are usually terrible anyway) and realize that scarcity is a value.

Fatigued football fans is the result.

Fantasy football has overtaken the NFL

For years I have been waffling on my feelings about fantasy sports, especially fantasy football.

The cynic in me immediately disliked the concept of fantasy anything. For me, fantasy football seems like a frat-guy version of Dungeons and Dragons. Nothing against D&D either, but it appears to be an ode to the imaginary. For anyone other than a kid, I see fantasy as a waste of time for adults.

That’s me though.

Fantasy football
Fantasy football means fans watch the games like this.

But I also think fantasy actually hurts sports. I don’t like that it has changed how most fans watch games. Sure, folks may still have a favorite team but, with fantasy, you’re rooting for singular players, not a team. You may find yourself rooting for a player playing against your favorite team.

This creates a seemingly impossible reality for players to live up to. Take what Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse had to say about it.

“I think it’s starting, kind of, to be more about fantasy football than, like, football. You start to see that. All you hear about is, ‘Oh, this guy got me this amount of points.’ I was talking to a teammate and he made a really good point: It also gives people just reasons to watch games they really wouldn’t watch. But I think it’s all about fantasy football for fans. Or that’s where I think it’s heading.”

Fantasy football makes fans root for players, not teams.

More and more fans are consumed by fantasy football. The rise of Draft Kings and other online fantasy sites has increased. Fantasy football has become a billion-dollar industry.

My children, for example, only know the sport because they play fantasy. My oldest son, bless his heart, doesn’t even know how many players position themselves on offense and defense. But he knows enough to play in three fantasy leagues where he typically finishes in the top three. Go figure. He’ll only watch games involving one of his players and cares only when those players do well.

My assumption is that he is not alone in this habit. In fact, my guess is that he is in the great majority. Fantasy football isn’t going anywhere – and the NFL knows it attracts the average fan, like my son – but something is lost when you approach the game that way.

The Dish Tribune war only affects Dish

If you are a Dish subscriber, you are well aware of the Dish Tribune Media dispute, with Tribune owning 42 local stations and WGN America. All Tribune Media stations went dark on Dish on June 12th.

This is bad for both brands, but terrible for Dish.

Dish Tribune
The Dish Tribune dispute puts the onus on Dish, not Tribune.

At issue is the price Dish is willing to pay Tribune to air its stations. Depending on which side you are on in the Dish Tribune war, Dish claims that Tribune wants more than its worth and Tribune claims that Dish is not negotiating in good faith because Dish is not willing to pay the same that other cable and satellite providers are paying.

The beliefs in the Dish Tribune dispute.

If you have read anything at all on our site, you know that what is actually true takes a back seat to what is believed. From a consumer’s perspective, subscribers of Dish believe they are the ones being punished and it’s Dish, not Tribune Media, that doing the harm. Needless to say, Dish customers are complaining to whoever is listening. If you believe Tribune, nearly 300,000 subscribers left the satellite provider in the second quarter alone.

From a business perspective, I understand that Dish wants to get Tribune as cheaply as possible. (It also doesn’t help Dish that it’s behind DirecTV and some cable providers in subscribers, meaning it doesn’t have the cash others do.) I also understand that Tribune wants to get paid at the same rate it does from the rest of the TV providers.

As a customer, therefore, I get angry at the company I am paying each month to bring me the content it promised to deliver. I think most consumers believe they are paying too much for the television programming already, which is one of the reasons so many people are cutting the cord.

What does Dish accomplish by telling its customers that the Dish Tribune dispute is the fault of the content provider? Does it expect its subscribers to stand up in support?

Dish has a serious brand problem. Its promise to deliver content has failed. The belief is that Dish is wrong and that Tribune is being reasonable.

Since a lot of Tribune Media stations air NFL football, subscribers will be forced to watch the games elsewhere when the season beings in a few weeks. At that point, it will be too late for Dish.

Should anyone sponsor the Denver Broncos?

When Sports Authority closed its doors due to bankruptcy, that left the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos in a dilemma. What should they re-name Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium?

The Denver Broncos were left without a field sponsor and, now that Sports Authority has gone out of business, the team is igniting talks with potential suitors.

Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos can sponsor its own stadium.

Tops on the list, according to some reports, is Papa Johns, the national pizza chain that has tied its wagon to both the NFL and founder John Schnatter. Considering its overall strategy, it would make some sense.

Or would it?

What would a brand get out of sponsoring the Denver Broncos?

As a brand strategist, I’ve always been wary of stadium naming rights. It can be expensive, for one thing. Costs usually run from $11 million (Levi Stadium near San Francisco) to $20 million (Citi Field in NYC) per year.

In the large scheme of things, especially when you consider how much brands waste on advertising, it’s not that expensive. But what do brands get out of it?

To me, the reason to be the name sponsor of a sports arena is strictly for awareness. There’s no other reason. I can’t fathom how a brand can create preference based on that sponsorship.

Of course, that kind of sponsorship doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It should be part of an entire marketing strategy. And, often, sports sponsorship comes from a local company with nationwide reach. (Such as Sports Authority, which was headquartered in Englewood, Colorado.) Brands consider it part of their community outreach.

What would Papa Johns truly get out of it? It doesn’t have an awareness problem and it already has an official alliance with the NFL. From a brand perspective, sure, it could be the name sponsor for the Denver Broncos without impugning on its brand. But it already has high awareness and reach so there’s no compelling reason for it.

Think about this. What did the sponsorship do for Sports Authority? It probably has less awareness than Papa Johns, but the sponsorship did nothing to create preference for its brand.

Five years into its 10-year deal with the Denver Broncos, Sports Authority closed up shop.

My advice to Papa Johns or any of the other brands considering the sponsorship: Don’t do it. The NFL teams are rich enough to sponsor their own stadiums.

Russia. Olympic Doping

Olympic doping is a symptom not a cause

Olympic doping "I'm shocked"Olympic doping? Remember when Captain Renault (Claude Raines from the 1942 movie Casablanca) famously said “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

I’m afraid that is exactly my sarcastic response to implications that the Russian Olympic team doped during the Sochi Olympics and that that coverup was systemic to the Russian state.

Are you shocked? I doubt it.

However, I don’t think this stops with the Russian team. Let’s face facts: Doping and cheating in athletics is a global epidemic that, just like the Spanish Flu of 1918, it respects no boarders and infects the entire globe.

Does Olympic doping bother me?

Lance Armstrong and Olympic dopingYes. But I’m not appalled. Unlike almost all of my friends, I have given up professional sports (and the Olympics are PROFESSIONAL sports) and I am fast losing interest in intercollegiate sports as well. Did my malaise start with Lance Armstrong? Not really. It started when it occurred to me that athletic competition was becoming a religion where winning was embraced as a modern form of spiritual redemption.

The problem is the wealth that comes along with winning and, to borrow a term from Donald Trump, “trust me” fame is a form of wealth.

The cult of athletics is not one of humanity’s finer traits. It clouds judgment, suspends introspection and deludes accomplishment. Fans identify with their teams so completely that they ignore the facts that even in intercollegiate athletics, athletes are not the representative of the schools for which they compete. The student athlete for the University of Kentucky’s basketball team has as much in common with the students and grads of that university as I do with an NFL athlete. By the way, don’t think I am ragging on the Wildcats (although they are top-of-mind with me). You could insert almost any university brand in the sentence including North Carolina, Alabama, Oklahoma… etc. Only Temple University is exempt (check my bio).

Winning is all that matters

In a global culture where winning is a form of self-identification, it is not surprising that we have had scandals in major league baseball, football and cycling. The personal identification with the Manchester United’s of the world is overwhelming but that blind ignorance pales compared to the xenophobic nationalism of the Olympics. Do you think only the Russians cheated?

Olympic DopingMy God, this past week I heard allegations that the Kenyan long distance runners have been doping. You know these super humans? They are 6’4” (legs are 5’ of that height) and they weigh 58 kilos. Rumor has it that they have the hollow bones found only in birds so as to be lighter on their feet. These are the guys and gals that finish the marathon before any of those running the half-marathon come even close to the finish line.

As I think about it, I don’t watch much in the way of sports anymore because I don’t want to think of myself as a fool. Someone duped into thinking everything is on the up and up and athletic accomplishment comes solely from hard work and dedication. I’m not duped because everyone seems to be doped.

Earlier blogs about athletics and the Olympics

With the Olympics, NBC earned gold. Without it, struggling for bronze.

Lance Armstrong finally admits the truth about the NFL