Thursday, November 30, 2006

A sign of things to come?

So, the real Thursday-night schedule kicks off this week, with Baltimore and Cincinati playing on the NFL Network. Am I going to watch? Probably not.

Here's the problem. I think that like MLB in the middle of the Greed Era, from which it has not quite yet emerged, the NFL is taking its fans for granted. Virtually every aspect of its television schedule now is designed around everything but the fans:

  • Thursday-night games. Great idea, right? Well, maybe if you have the NFL Network. Most people don't (including those whose systems don't even carry it). And if you don't have anything else to watch, like maybe basketball (yep, even women's basketball: I'm watching #9 Purdue at #7 Connecticut right now), a little college football (the MAC championship, and how upset are they that they have to share the airwaves with the NFL?), or maybe your regular Thursday schedule.
  • Flex scheduling. Sounds good, unless you're traveling to one of the games and have to change your plans. Besides, we've already seen that moving a game weeks in advance doesn't guarantee it'll be a good matchup, which was supposedly the whole point of doing this.
  • The decades-old, hopelessly-outdated blackout rule. By now, if you can afford to go to the game, you're there. Nobody I know asks whether or not it'll be on TV before they decide to buy tickets. The blackout rule dates to an era when people really did stay home instead of going to the game; now, most people who watch on TV can't afford to see a game, and on top of that, many NFL teams now play in taxpayer-funded stadiums. Tell you what: you can black out the game as long as you play in your own stadium.
  • Length of games. Sorry, the biggest problem is still advertising: the NFL, like every other sport, pushes as many commercials as it can into each game, then doesn't understand why games continue to run over (maybe schedule the second games at 4:30 instead of 4:15 or 4:05? Just a thought) and interfere with other games and recording plans. What's worse is when you're hoping to record the second half of a doubleheader, but the first half is the local game, so they won't cut away from it, and you can't watch it on Sunday Ticket, because it's going to be on the local station, so it's blacked out.
  • Sunday Ticket itself. Most people can't get it, even though there's a huge market for it, because the NFL can't take its snout out of DirecTV's trough. Beware: if you artificially lower supply, but keep it too low for too long, demand will fall as well, and in this day and age, it's really difficult to get people to start watching. There are too many other options for people who could get DirecTV.
  • Non-network games. First it was Sunday night, then Monday plus the Thursday/Saturday package. I've heard fears from some people that the NFL is going toward an exclusively pay-per-view package. I don't think they'd really do that any time soon, but they're certainly moving in that direction.
  • Coverage itself. ESPN and NBC are the biggest offenders, because they think they're showing TV rather than sports (because they are national games), so we have to suffer through every possible NBC or ABC (love that ABC/ESPN tie-in, don't you?) "celebrity" in the booth, but even CBS and Fox have stooped to showing the "human interest" stories, or talking about random things and then focusing on a particular player instead of the game, so you miss 4-6 snaps per game because of this. Hey, some of us are watching for the action on the field. Is it too much to ask for you to show the game itself?

Yeah, maybe this is "the sky is falling" and this will really be just another step toward making the NFL even more popular in North America, but it seems to me more like Sony's plan to dominate the console market: do the exact opposite of what most people think you should do. If that doesn't mess you up, you're dominant.

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