You could argue there’s never been a better time to be a sports fan than 2016. Every one of North America’s premier leagues ― NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA ― possess major national TV deals. Each one features primetime slots for their respective products.
The NFL has undoubtedly capitalized the most on this trend, maintaining supremacy over its competition. Pro football remains fresh with a stranglehold on Sundays. It also enjoys primetime opportunities on Monday and Thursday nights.
The league has a 16-game schedule that fans can easily digest. It presents an ideal opportunity to indulge in both fantasy sports and the insanely popular RedZone channel. And don’t forget about gambling either, which the NFL has literally banked on for years, as its popularity has skyrocketed. As opposed to betting on baseball’s random pitching matchups for 162 games or setting an NBA fantasy lineup every day, the NFL has found the happy medium in this department.
Then again, the NFL season never truly ends. The league’s news cycle is 24-7, 365 days a year, and fans still crave more. For the first time in a long time however, that fact may be coming to a screeching halt.
A USA Today article this month cites the Nevada Gaming Control estimating that gambling on football ― namely the NFL ― was down $6 million in September compared to last season. This comes on the heels of a decrease over the course of the entire 2015 season.
And a decrease in gambling has resulted in a significant drop in viewership. “‘Monday Night Football’ is down 24 percent from last year at this time, ‘Sunday Night Football’ is down 19 percent and Thursday night is down 18 percent,” the Sports Illustrated-run website MMQB reports.
These numbers are shocking, even when we consider that viewers are not merely turning away from pro football, but they are turning on to other sports. In fact, ratings for the Chicago Cubs’ MLB World Series win over the Cleveland Indians just topped the wildly popular “Sunday Night Football” for the first time since 2011. Perhaps this wouldn’t be of note, except for the fact that baseball’s crowned jewel has been utterly dominated by the NFL in recent history.
Of course, if you’re looking for the NFL to make some sort of statement or publicly acknowledge that it has a legitimate issue, don’t hold your breath.
But let’s examine the indisputable facts that have led to the league’s recent struggles.
Pass interference calls, illegal contact, holding ― all of the above. A USA Today study validates this notion. Since 2011, offensive holding calls have spiked 43 percent per season. Better yet, defensive passing penalties are up 45 percent over the same span. Just last week, Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman told reporters that an official admitted to missing two offensive pass interference calls during the game. The Stanford educated honors student even went so far as to say the “league isn’t fun” anymore. He’s right.
Turn on any NFL game and there is one constant: The product is littered with flags from completely inept referees who have not had the ample instruction on how to correctly officiate such a brutally fast and physical sport.
As egregious as the league’s officiating problem has become, however, it is not the calls in between the lines that are Goodell’s biggest missteps.
If Goodell’s job is to make the owners money, then it surely includes other responsibilities as well. Unfortunately for the league, Goodell’s arrogance and deception is so far beyond comprehension that even his most loyal supporters cannot condone his actions.
Since assuming his role as commissioner in 2006, the 57-year-old Goodell has maintained a firm stance against gambling. But gambling is the very reason why the league has assumed such dominance in the ratings game. Betting lines are literally everywhere. Networks even encourage and promoted them.
And the NFL widely supports fantasy sports. It’s the sole reason why our famed RedZone channel even exists. And yet, just as he seemingly pretends as if gambling doesn’t help generate revenue via ratings and popularity, Goodell also acts as if nobody wagers money on fantasy football. Yet the most popular part of the NFL’s very own webpage is its fantasy section. And the research has consistently shown that fans are by and large watching RedZone, as opposed to the actual games.
Whereas a progressive commissioner like the NBA’s Adam Silver has told HuffPost how he embraces fantasy and gambling as a reality, Goodell petulantly acts like it doesn’t even exist.
“We remain very much opposed to gambling on sports. .... we want to make sure we’re doing what’s right for the game,” Goodell said in October.
And remember that the NFL maintains partnerships with DraftKings and FanDuel, the two largest daily fantasy companies on the planet. Whether or not you believe daily fantasy or season-long fantasy is gambling, you can at least agree that money is on the line. Goodell seems incapable of doing so.
As shocking as Goodell’s missteps in gambling have been, what’s even more shocking is how he has handled domestic violence.
When he says things like, “[The NFL has made] “tremendous progress,” we as fans have to take responsibility. We have to ask ourselves how we can continue supporting this league when its leader is in such a constant state of denial about such an important and impactful issue ― one that extends far beyond football.
When the Ray Rice fiasco happened in 2014, it shed light on the undeniable fact that the NFL’s system on how to handle domestic violence was broken. And we’ve seen a slew of other cases mishandled as well: Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald, and most recently, Josh Brown ― the former kicker for the New York Giants.
Goodell’s hypocritical actions are unacceptable. He says the league doesn’t condone Brown’s behavior, but then says it will be supportive of Brown moving forward. Explain that, Goodell. You can’t. Nor can you explain the fact that Tom Brady was originally suspended for four games for deflating footballs, but Rice originally received a measly two games for knocking his then fiancee unconscious.
I’ve said before that leadership is easy when it’s convenient. Goodell can’t even manage that. And for too long he’s been given a free pass simply because of the public’s insatiable appetite for pro football, merely because of a meteoric rise in ratings and revenue.
His colossal failure as a commissioner, though, has finally caught up to him. Goodell’s apparent lies, arrogance, narcissism, deceit and greed are all starting to emerge. His NFL empire may not be crumbling just yet, but for the first time, it is under duress. And for us as sports fans ― but also just as human beings ― let’s hope it signals the beginning of the end for this white collar thug.
Email me at jordan.schultz@huffingtonpo