Why the NFL Is Not Too Big to Fail

Matt Rogers@@recworldwideContributor IApril 30, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - JANUARY 15:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to fans during a Q&A prior to the AFC Divisional playoff game between the Houston Texans and the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on January 15, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

In October of 1929, Joseph P. Kennedy made the decision to get out of the stock market when he received a stock tip from a shoe-shine boy.

In the late 1990s, American Online was the dominant internet provider in the world.

In 1999, Ebay was on its way to becoming the most powerful internet market anywhere.

In 2002, Yahoo! was the biggest internet search platform.

In 2005, Fox Corp paid $530 million for MySpace.

In 2006, Google was the most used search engine globally.

In 2007, housing values were at historic highs and millions of people had become “real estate millionaires.”

In 2011, the NFL has become the most powerful league in the world when it comes to sports. No other league, from baseball to basketball to English Premier League football, comes close to the revenues that the NFL brings in through its TV contracts, ticket and merchandise sales and other various lines of revenue.

We are now at the point where the dominance of the NFL is beyond question. No one can deny the power and influence that the sport has over the world. It is broadcast to most countries and even people that have never held a football wear jerseys with the names Brady, Manning, Rodgers and Brees on the backs.

Forget basketball, baseball or futbol, our football is the first truly-global sport. The NFL enjoys unprecedented coverage and acceptance; it is more popular than ever. This is the pinnacle of its success. And it’s in danger of crashing.

I hear sportscasters, journalists and talk show hosts talk about how the NFL is on top and it is there to stay. I see a commissioner whose body language screams of the arrogance of power and declares a black-and-white loyalty to the rules he has created and an undying commitment to protect the brand and the shield. Roger Goodell knows of the power he wields and he wields it only to serve his own purpose.

In his effort to protect the shield, he has put the NFL on a course of potential self-destruction. His actions scream of hypocrisy in that he wants to make the NFL safer, yet he promotes brutal hits through DVDs and photos. He has created rules that promote offense and protect QBs and WRs, tying the hands of defenses, and if a defensive player appears to hit one of the protected few hard, then the defensive player is fined and suspended for the hit.

Goodell has been judge and jury to every issue over the past few years, yet he swings his sword in a very biased manner where there is no equality, no appeal process and no outside voice to bring an additional perspective to findings. He has, in fact, watered the game down to the point where it is almost a pickup game of pass.

Goodell is greatly interfering with the game, but this is not only an indictment of his performance on the job. In fact, there is reason for him to force these changes on the game. Agree with his actions or not, I do believe he is acting in the best long-term interest of the game with some of his decisions and in ways against the game with others.

Remember, Goodell is forced to make the game safer, or at least give the pretense of making it safer for four major reasons: 1) lawsuits by former players, 2) Government interference, 3) the future of the game and 4) the cost.

We all think back to the warriors of our youths. For me it was Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary, Reggie White and even Bill Romanowski. We remember the hard-crushing hits (and yes, even the dirty plays).

What we don’t think about, what we refuse to think about are the long-term effects that these hard hits have done to our favorite players. The concussions, damaged bodies, deteriorated brains, and sadly, even the tragic loss of life such as Dave Duerson, who committed suicide partly because of the early onset of dementia that he suffered from during his playing days.

Would we really condemn our current favorite players to this same fate? Have we become so desensitized that we want to see these players' bodies and minds destroyed on a weekly basis simply for our enjoyment, not caring about the long-term consequences of the bone-shattering impact? We are not in Rome; these are not gladiators fighting at the Coliseum.

Currently, the NFL is facing class-action lawsuits by hundreds of former players suffering through effects of brain damage and concussions because the NFL failed to take protective measures. If enough of these legitimate lawsuits are won (and I think the NFL should be doing much, much more to assist those that helped to build the sport to where it is now), then every single other player with even an ache that can be traced back to their time in the NFL will have a lawsuit on their hands.

A few multimillion-dollar suits and sponsors will begin to shy away, TV contracts will not be so valuable and the NFL will begin losing money. And the expense will be passed on to the fan in more expensive tickets, food and drink, and merchandise. These lawsuits have the power to cripple the NFL.

The government seems to be taking an interest in many things that do not really concern it. With the economy in the toilet, unemployment still hurting the country, millions of people declaring bankruptcy, two wars, a global financial crisis and an election year, politicians are creating subterfuge focusing on easy, people-pleasing headlines such as “Congress Investigates Bountygate” rather than tackling real problems.

To be fair, the NFL does enjoy anti-trust status as well as government-funded stadiums, which does allow the government to interfere whenever they want. The NFL is a private enterprise that has greatly benefited from government assistance, but that assistance wasn’t free. The government does have the right to stick its nose in any time it wants and the NFL doesn’t want the government investigating issues any time a senator or congressman feels like building a name for him or herself. The NFL can be torn down by government inquiry, the anti-trust status can be removed, which would create chaos for the owners, and new laws could cripple the game.

I have a son. I have wanted him to play football since the moment he was born, his mother not so much. She would watch the pounding hits on TV and say, “no way, my son is not playing football.” She shares the same thought of millions if moms around the country. If they feel football is too dangerous, they will not let their kids play. If this happens, the quality of the game will decrease over the next 15 to 20 years.

If you think it is bad now, what happens when the game not only involves less hitting, but the talent is lacking as well? What happens when our next generation’s Adrian Peterson ends up in soccer or baseball because it’s safer?

Finally, the cost of attending a game is skyrocketing. It costs a family of four roughly $400 to attend once tickets, parking and food are taken care of. Most families can’t afford this very often. The NFL is making almost $10 billion through its TV contracts and additional billions through corporate seating. Don’t be so greedy as to exclude the regular fans that are the most passionate and loyal. They are the ones that stick with the team even when they are terrible (hello Cleveland).

It is going to get to the point where fans will not go to games because they can watch it on TV (HD by the way) for much less and the cost of one beer at a game will be the same as a six pack at home. Once the NFL loses that fan, it will be very difficult to get him or her back. Greed and the desire for more money will damage the NFL long term.

The NFL is the greatest league in the world; the games have become events that people build parties around. The draft, preseason, the Hall of Fame game, the opening game, Thanksgiving Day games, the playoffs and the Superbowl! Every single week there could be an excuse for a party centering around a game or NFL event. Don’t let the desire for more cash cripple what has taken almost 100 years to build.

From the stock market to Google and Yahoo!, to MySpace and possibly Facebook, including the NFL, every business and event listed above experienced historic highs, power, prestige and profits right before it crashed. If Goodell is not careful, the NFL can fall victim to the same disease of largeness where either people get scared, the cost becomes too high, or people just get tired of it. If you don’t think it could happen to the NFL, then look at history.