Friday, June 14, 2024

An 18-game NFL schedule? More is not always better, but Roger Goodell and Co. can’t help themselves | Sporting News

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Let’s get this out there at the start, so we’re clear: If the NFL regular season swells to 18 games, we will watch. No one – literally, no one, no matter how opposed to the concept – will select a particular game from the bloated schedule and say: That’s the one I’m boycotting. I’ll show them!

Which does not mean 18 should happen.

The capacity to sell more product, and make more near-term money, is alluring in business. It also can be viewed as the difference between a fast-food burger and an exquisite dish of Beef Wellington. A company can give us more, or it can give us better. It’s rare those elements coincide.

Somewhere along the way, though, even as television contracts have grown exponentially more lucrative and franchise values have soared like Anthony Edwards on the break, those in charge of the NFL have misplaced every business concept except “more”.

There is no demand for an expansion of the regular season. Of course every game means more in ticket revenue and more inventory to sell to broadcast partners. It is not as if the NFL is hurting in either category.

NFL teams are not publicly traded companies that must demonstrate growth or die on the market ticker, but they’re cashing in, big. Sportico estimates the average NFL team profit was $137 million in 2022. And the greatest reward for ownership always has been the increase in asset value. The Cowboys are worth $9 billion according to Forbes, an increase of 1,048 percent since 2002. The S&P 500 advanced by 599 percent over the same period.

MORE: Track latest NFL schedule leaks

NFL wants to expand to 18 games

And yet there was Roger Goodell on NFL Draft weekend, talking up the possibility of a “three-day Super Bowl Weekend” that would be facilitated by increasing the number of regular-season games to 18. It’s the least necessary marketing tactic since the league increased the schedule from the ideal 16-game season to 17 starting in 2023.

In exchange for this, Goodell promises the preseason would be reduced by one game. Indeed, some season-ticket holders, the ones who can’t understand a simple accounting trick, complain about having to purchase preseason games as part of their packages. In reality, their seats to preseason games are free. If there were no such games, NFL teams quickly would increase the price of the regular-season games to account for the lost revenue. As they would in this circumstance.

And some journalists, even the ones who treat spring training as a religious experience, complain about preseason football because it happens in August when it can be hot and miserable rather than offering a late-winter escape from the cold to the sunshine of Florida or Arizona.

The preseason is embraced, though, by football fans searching for the next Brock Purdy or Puka Nacua, and can be ignored without consequence by those who find it bothersome.

In business, the “scarcity principle” is a real thing, something many companies deploy as a means of enhancing brand value and even sales.

Nike has done this with limited releases of sneaker designs, and toy brands frequently create holiday-season frenzies by keeping supply just small enough to invigorate demand. And it’s a huge part of the appeal of luxury brands; they might often be of better quality, but they’re always going to be harder to attain.

The management in NFL headquarters appears to have abandoned any sense, though, of how to properly execute. The ham-handed handling of the terrific NFL Network program “Good Morning Football”, stuffing the whole piping-hot enterprise into hiatus for the sake of moving its operation from New York to the West Coast, is one recent example. GMF had seen a year-over-year ratings increase of 16 percent in 2023 and enjoyed its largest average audience since 2017. Yeah, that needs fixing.

Injuries could climb in 18-game season

At least whichever of the Good Morning Football cast members make the move to California will only need to deal with freeway traffic. The athletes the NFL wants to play an 18th regular-season game – which means the Super Bowl champion could reach 22 for the season – will face the greater possibility of short-term injury and long-term health risks.

The NFL has worked hard to reduce injuries in the sport, and there were fewer missed games in 2023, something that’s been achieved largely by outlawing practice. Yeah, they can get together and throw the football around and such, but even with 330-pound linemen and 260-pound linebackers involved, it’s not even as punishing as what I endured as an eighth-grade offensive tackle.

There’s still a greater volume of injures, because there are more games in which to be injured. And too many of them have been calamitous. Precisely half of the league’s starting quarterbacks missed at least two games last season with injuries. Seven of them were lost for the season, including stars Aaron Rodgers, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert.

That’s without bringing up the added physical burden on linemen and running backs whose jobs already are plenty grueling. We won’t know the long-term effects of the expanded schedule on today’s generation of players until, well, the long term. But we already know the sport takes a significant toll. There’s no good reason to escalate that punishment by increasing the demands on the athletes.

Playing 18 should be left to golfers.

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