By Alex Kuhn
Sports Editor 

Hear me out...Column Buffet: NFL Edition

 

December 23, 2017

Originally, this week's column was going to be a deep dive into the NFL ratings. I had a week's worth of research ready to go, but all of that went out the window because so much has happened over the past week in the NFL and it's all too good to pass up.

There's no time to waste, let's get to it.

NFL RATINGS

I'm not going to lie, taking what was going to be around 1500-plus words and compressing to 700 words but here's the gist of it. There have been a lot of knee-jerk reactions to the NFL rating dip and depending on your political leanings it's either due to the players kneeling during the anthem or the NFL's handling of concussions.

While both might have an impact on the ratings, I disagree that either is the sole cause or significantly impacted the NFL's ratings. Instead, I believe cord-cutting and a plethora of viewing options are the main reasons the NFL has taken a hit the past two seasons.

Cord-cutting has made a tremendous impact on cable services and TV networks. It was thought that liv-events, particularly sports, were immune because as networks saw their programs lose viewers, ratings for the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and NASCAR were climbing.


Then last year ratings for each of those leagues saw declines but most of it was blamed on the 2016 election coverage. Yet, those declines continued in 2017 and with the NFL being the king of the hill they took the brunt of the criticism.

Players' kneeling during the anthem is a popular excuse for the ratings fall and it has been argued that if they, the NFL brass, cracked down on the players the ratings would increase. This is one of those things that on the surface makes sense but the more you break it down it doesn't hold up.

Look at NASCAR, car owners, like Richard Petty, came out and said if any driver knelt during the anthem they'd fire them on the spot. While crowd-pleasing, it didn't stop the hemorrhaging NASCAR was experiencing in the ratings.

The concussion excuse doesn't make sense either because we've known about this for a while and ratings were booming until just last season.

Mike Mulvihill, Fox Sports executive vice president of research, league operations and strategy, broke down last year's NFL ratings and busted some misconceptions in the process. Here's what he wrote to John Ourand of Sports Business Journal.

"That simple fact implies that ratings increased this season, but because viewership statistics are a function of both the number of people watching and the amount of time they spend viewing, the math becomes more complicated. In this case, the number of people watching the NFL increased, but the average amount of time spent watching the league declined. The result was a decrease in average minute audience for every NFL rights holder.


"That distinction was lost on many observers. It is absolutely critical to understanding what happened during the season. The ratings declines that were the subject of so much speculation were never about fans abandoning the NFL. Rather, the declines were about a growing pool of fans spending less time with the games each week.

What caused fans who were still interested in the NFL to spend less time watching games? The answer is obvious in retrospect. The presidential campaign commanded so much attention through the season's first half that it drew some viewing away from the NFL. Look at total minutes viewed - a metric that has become the best tool for looking at content across networks and across media. Total minutes viewed for the entire league was down 13 percent through the season's first nine weeks - the weeks prior to Election Day. Following the election, though, total minutes viewed dropped by less than one one-hundredth of a percent through the regular season's last eight weeks. That is a stunning turnaround that clearly identifies the election as the biggest factor affecting the numbers."

Basically, people would watch the NFL but when games got out of hand they'd watch something else. With Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, why would you watch a game that's no longer interesting? You can watch "Stranger Things" and check your phone in case of a comeback.

Now 2017's numbers will obviously be different but I'm going to take an educated guess and say they won't be wildly different. Another part of this feels like

The NFL is similar to ESPN in that they're down and people are kicking them as many times as they before they pick themselves up, but even with the down ratings they're still far and away the dominant group in their field.

REPLAY & CHAIN GANG

The hot takes have been flowing since the Pats-Steelers and Cowboys-Raiders games. In the Pats-Steelers game, you had Pitt TE Jesse James snag a game-winning TD but had it overturned in replay because James didn't complete the catch when he stretched the ball across the goal line then hit the ground and lost control of the ball.

The hot takes surrounding replay have been hilarious with many calling for replay to be scaled back or outright removed. It's ridiculous and an obvious sign of overthinking. The problem isn't with replay the problem is what the NFL considers a catch.

I think we can all agree that if a player possesses the ball with two feet inbounds that's a catch. Since we're dealing with superhuman athletes they're going to be able to perform moves that we didn't think possible or would land us mortals in the hospital if we attempted them. Like catching the ball and simultaneously making a move for the goal line like James did or Dez Bryant did against the Packers in the 2014 Divisional round of the NFC playoffs.

Just clean up the catch rule and we're good.

As for the Cowboys-Raiders game, on a crucial 4-and-1, the Cowboys went for it and had it came down to a measurement. The chain gang came out to measure and it didn't matter how close the camera got in, it was tough to determine if there was first down. This is when head official Gene Steratore busted out an index card to, by his own admission, add a touch of the dramatics to the measurement. The card didn't fit between the ball and the stick so it was first down Cowboys.

Admittedly, the optics for a billion dollar league having such a huge moment decided by an index card isn't great. But I stand by Steratore's decision to use an index card, it was awesome and his grin afterward made it all the better.

As for the hot takes, there was a lot of laser, and put a sensor in the ball, talk, again more overthinking. A majority of problems do not need complex answers, in fact, it's often the simplest answer that is the best way to go. Case in point, remember a few years back when there were several field goal kicks that went right over the top of the goal post? There were calls for lasers and sensors then but all that needed to be done was adding a few extra feet to the goal post

Plus, technology has come a long way but it still fails. Look at the headsets that the coaches use in the game, every coach says they go out from time to time during the game. If the NFL used lasers or sensors I give it five minutes before it fails, resulting in a 15-minute delay as they try to get it to work, eventually to be followed going back to the chain gain.

The chain gangs are fine.

JERRY RICHARDSON

If you're an NFL owner and stories are getting ready to drop about your hush-hush sexual harassment settlements, the best way to get in front of it all is to say you're selling your team and pray someone like Sean "Diddy" Combs says they're going to buy your team. And like the dogs from "Up" the media will turn their focus from the sexual harassment settlements to who is going to buy the team.

Bullet dodged for Jerry Richardson.

For the record, there is no way in hell Diddy is going to get the Panthers not only did he reveal that he doesn't watch football by saying he'd sign Colin Kaepernick and start him, not realizing the Panthers have an elite QB in Cam Newton, but the NFL owners would sooner fold the league before accepting Diddy as one of their own. They don't like wild cards, they have too many skeletons in their closet for that.

TOM BRADY'S TRAINER

I love Tom Brady, he's my favorite NFL player of all-time. He epitomizes dedication and hard work, look at the early Brady years, he was essentially a check-down artist. He pushed himself to be the QB he is today. That being said off the field he's a weirdo who I'm sure believes that certain rocks have healing properties. Then with the release of his TB12 mumbo jumbo this year it solidified he's a weird guy.

It was reported earlier in the week that Brady's trainer Alex Guerrero, who helped create TB12, was banned from the Patriots sideline and jets. Guerrero, a self-described health guru (which says enough about him), was reportedly trying to undermine the Pats medical staff and started to rub those in the organization the wrong way.

This might seem like a small story, but I think there's more here. By all accounts, Guerrero is Brady's boy and this could be the start of a rift. How crazy would it be if the guy that helped build the dynasty eventually helped destroy it? That's some Shakespearian-level stuff right there.

THE JAGUARS ARE REALLY IN THE PLAYOFFS

The Jacksonville Jaguars are in the playoffs and have a shot at the No. 1-seed or 2-seed. As a Jags fan this is wild and still needs some time for processing. The past decade has been terrible for Jags fans, all 28 of us, the best part of the any NFL year was April during the draft. Now we get to see some meaningful games played in January.

I'm still nervous about Blake Bortles, in any given game he's the player that scares me the most and that includes the other team. But he's looked better, more confident and has been consistent over the past month. It has been quite the transformation. Now, it could blow up at any moment and he can regress but....

You know what, I don't care, it's probably going to blow up in my face but I'm all in on Bortles. He's going to pull a Joe Flacco in the 2013 NFL playoffs and do enough to help the Jacksonville Jaguars win the Super Bowl LII

Blake Bortles Super Bowl LII MVP!

XFL OR USFL REVIVAL

Yes, I am all in. The NFL needs a rival to kick them out of complacency.

 
 

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