Last week HBO's superb NFL reality show Hard Knocks debuted for the 2010-11 season. This season features the New York Jets, a team loaded with characters (Rex Ryan, Bart Scott) and controversy (Darrell Revis' contract dispute), both of which make for riveting television.
HBO doesn't have the advantage of featuring a team every season with as many side plots as the Jets currently have, so this season promises to be equal parts hilarious and alarming. By the time Eminem's "Not Afraid" dropped during the opening montage of last week's premier, I was beyond hooked.
Last season HBO featured the Cincinnati Bengals, who at the time had one dynamic personality (Chad OchoCinco) and a bunch of castoffs. Surprisingly, the show was just as entertaining as it was during previous seasons, which featured the Cowboys and the Ravens.
This leads me to believe a couple of things. First, that any NFL team is beyond fascinating when given an HBO special. I couldn't care less about the Jacksonville Jaguars during the regular season, but if they were on Hard Knocks, I can guarantee you that I wouldn't miss a minute.
Secondly, a show like Hard Knocks is great for the NFL and its wildly obsessed fan base. Even if you're a Patriots or New York Giants fan, you're tuning into this show because, 1) you already love the NFL, and 2) you'll do anything to get closer to any NFL team, regardless of whether you're a fan of them or not.
That's why I'm proposing that every NFL team gets it own reality show. Does your team have slumping attendance and ticket sales? With a reality show, the team gets huge exposure and allows even the casual fan to feel like they're part of the team, living vicariously through the show.
Teams like Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, and even the Vikings (pre-Brett Favre) struggle to fill seats for regular season games. Heck, Minnesota could barely sell out their playoff appearance two seasons ago. A reality show lets the fans see what their favorite players are really like, and it could encourage them to at least buy a few tickets for the upcoming season.
Let's pretend for a minute that we're all Jacksonville Jaguars fans (sorry to pick on you so much J-Ville, but I've actually watched a few of your regular season games. Your stadium looks more and more depressing as the season goes on). Training camp is about to begin, and you're pondering whether or not to buy some tickets to a few choice home games.
The economy is down, so you don't want to waste money on a team who isn't going to play well or try hard. But then you tune in to the new season of Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars (wow, that actually does sound bad), and see how much offseason work David Garrard has done to improve his passing game. You see Mike Sims-Walker playing with his children, perfecting pass routes, and doing offseason charity work in a poor neighborhood outside of the city.
All of a sudden, you see the true human aspect of the game; not some fluffy garbage that the local news or ESPN produces, but real, live-in-the-moment emotion and struggle of training camp and life outside of it. Hard Knocks is raw, uncensored, and violent, exactly what most NFL fans crave.
Next thing you know, you've bought the tickets and are looking forward to cheering on your team in person.
Understandably, some teams would be against having HBO cameras following their every move on a daily basis. In the past Ted Thompson, GM of the Green Bay Packers, has turned down offers from HBO to film his team during their extremely popular training camp. But lifting the veil of secrecy could very well lead to more people buying tickets, merchandise, and generally supporting the team via TV ratings.
Of course teams like the Packers, Cowboys, and Steelers are national draws, so they aren't very concerned about more exposure. But the ratings would be astronomical, and that's good for the league, its fans, and their respective teams.