SBD/September 5, 2013/NFL Season PreviewPrint All
The '13 NFL season begins tonight with Ravens-Broncos, and the league is coming out of an "especially tumultuous offseason, one in which the very nature of the game was scrutinized daily," according to Rick Maese of the WASHINGTON POST. The league is "trying to emerge from a dark cloud of player health and safety concerns and last week reached a proposed settlement with about 4,500 former players who were suing over concussions." It also has "instituted new rules this season that will bar runners and tacklers from initiating contact with the crowns of their helmets and has stepped up its efforts to educate youth players on proper techniques." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said of the lawsuit settlement, "I don’t know how it’s going to be remembered. I know what its effect is going to be, which is going to provide help for the players and the families that have cognitive issues" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/5). In N.Y., Gary Myers reports Goodell yesterday endorsed the $765M settlement "as a means to quickly delivering money to the players who need it most." He "dismissed arguments it was chump change for the league in exchange for dumping a big headache." Goodell: "People start with making an assumption that we make $10 billion. But that's $10 billion in revenue. There's a difference between making and revenue. This is a significant amount of money" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/5).
JUST THE BEGINNING? Four former NFLers earlier this week filed a separate lawsuit against the league and helmet maker Riddell, and SI's Jim Trotter said, "Guys still see an opportunity to get money because they believe that the league doesn’t want to go to discovery and have all of this bad information come out into the public arena. We’re going to see more lawsuits.” He added, “What I would hope is that one player would say, or former player would say, ‘You know what, I don’t need the money but I want transparency. I want people to know what’s been going on’” (“Rome,” CBS Sports Network, 9/4). A USA TODAY editorial states brain injuries in the NFL, "once ignored, are now taken seriously." The editorial: "Give the NFL credit for change, but keep in mind this reformation didn't spring solely from altruism. It wouldn't have happened without pressure from Congress, scorching publicity, suicides by several ex-players and a massive lawsuit charging that the league misled players about the long-term dangers of concussions. ... Making an inherently violent game less dangerous won't be easy. How to measure success? If there's no need for another huge settlement 20 years from now" (USA TODAY, 9/5).
IMMEDIATE RESULTS FROM SETTLEMENT: ESPN's Steve Young, who was not part of the lawsuit, said the concussion settlement is "great" because there is "money now available for guys that are suffering" ("PTI," ESPN, 9/4). The AP's Joe Kay notes the settlement "gives former players immediate help with their medical bills" and a "drawn-out court fight was avoided." However, the "back-and-forth goes unabated with so many questions unanswered." CBS analyst Boomer Esiason said, "You can say it's Pandora's box that's been opened, but they are trying to find solutions. As a former player, I'm thankful they're doing that." Fox analysts Troy Aikman and John Lynch yesterday "agreed that the league has more work to do on head injuries." Aikman "wants the NFL to divulge more details about what it knew about the long-term impact of repeated blows to the head." Lynch "expects more litigation" (AP, 9/5). In Toronto, Morgan Campbell writes while it is "possible a sense of altruism motivated the NFL to offer a quick settlement, observers also point out that the league had a strong business case for avoiding litigation." The NFL's lawyers in a long trial "might have argued that some of [the] concussions leading to players’ brain damage may have occurred before those players turned pro -- a tactic that would have soured the NFL’s relationships with the universities that feed it players." Sources said that "more immediately ... the league avoids admitting a role in the players’ brain damage, and it dodges a discovery process that would have revealed exactly what league officials knew about the long-term effects of football-related head trauma" (TORONTO STAR, 9/5).
WILL THIS CHANGE THE GAME? ESPN NFL analyst Herm Edwards appeared on CBS' "Late Show" last night, and host David Letterman brought up the safety concerns with football, saying, "I talked to people much smarter than I am and they say that in 10, 15, 20 years, the NFL-style football will be much different than it is now because of concerns about the health of the players." Edwards said, "Our society, we love competitive violence within the framework of the rules, and that's what the National Football League is, competitive violence." But Letterman said, "As you well know, the residue of that is injuries that not only affect lives of players and their playing time but their lives generally and beyond and not just leg, knee and foot. We're talking more seriously head injuries. I guess we've been naive about that, haven't we?" Edwards agreed and said, "We have, and we've taken studies now and will continue to study. I think the league is going about it the right way, along with the rule changes." Letterman: "Sooner or later, people will say, 'Well, it's just not worth the price of injuries.'" Edwards added, "We say that. I think with the continuation of real safety for players, the way we're trying to teach the game anymore, this game is the No. 1 game" (“Late Show,” CBS, 9/4).
PREVENT DEFENSE: In Baltimore, Childs Walker notes Goodell yesterday promoted the Head Health Challenge II, which pairs the league with Under Armour and GE in a $10M effort "to fund innovation in treatment, equipment and training for youth players." The initiative, which will "provide seed money to those with new ideas related to head protection, is another piece in the NFL's attempt to improve its public response to the concussion issue." Goodell said that the "first phase of the health challenge attracted 400 ideas from more than 100 countries." Goodell added these ideas will "change the way we diagnose concussions not just in football, not just in sports, but in the military and beyond that." Goodell: "This is a worldwide issue, not just a football issue. But we accept the mantle of responsibility, and we're going to change the way people play sports and the way people live" (Baltimore SUN, 9/5).
NFL players have been "arrested or charged with crimes at least 37 times" since Super Bowl XLVII, including "10 players accused of driving drunk and a murder indictment" for former Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez, according to a front-page piece by Brent Schrotenboer of USA TODAY. The NFL during Commissioner Roger Goodell's tenure "features an arrest rate of more than one per week -- an average that hasn't changed much" since taking over for Paul Tagliabue in '07. NFL players under Goodell "have been arrested or charged with crimes at least 395 times, including 107 drunken-driving arrests, 43 domestic abuse cases, 34 cases involving guns and 94 cases involving fighting or disorderly conduct." The league believes its efforts to limit criminal offenses "are working, with one big exception: drunken driving." NFL Senior VP/Labor Policy & Gov't Affairs Adolpho Birch said, "The current level of deterrence associated with a DUI is insufficient." Birch added that "instead of fines for first-time drunken drivers ... the NFL wants mandatory suspensions under the league's substance abuse policy." Drunken driving under Goodell has "accounted for about 27% of arrests despite a concerted effort" by the NFL, NFLPA, teams and players "to combat the problem with education and phone numbers for players to call for free rides." Goodell "acknowledged that the league's efforts to educate and prevent problems, while substantial, offer no guarantees." He said last month, "You're still dealing with young men, individuals who are bound to make mistakes. We all do in life. What they have to realize and what we try to teach them is that your mistakes are going to be magnified" (USA TODAY, 9/5).
SAFETY MEASURE: In Denver, Steve Raabe reports the NFLPA and S.F.-based Uber Technologies yesterday announced a new partnership "for pro football players to get rides around town." Players "can use Uber's smartphone application to connect with a limousine or town car company." Anyone "can already use the Uber service, but the partnership with the NFLPA will provide players with keychain cards loaded with ride credits" (DENVER POST, 9/5). NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith said that the partnership with Uber will "raise awareness among players that, in many cities, they have a safe, sleek alternative" to driving drunk. Smith: "We know that discipline certainly plays a part in changing behavior. But we really wanted to start this look at trying to do a better job by treating this as a public health and public safety (issue). This partnership with Uber is something we believe meets that.” WIRED.com's Marcus Wohlsen noted while Uber is "available in slightly more than half the 31 cities with NFL teams, many of the league’s DUI incidents over the past year happened in places where Uber isn’t an option, at least not yet" (WIRED.com, 9/4). Uber plans to increase its availability from 17 NFL cities to 20 "by the first quarter of 2014." Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said that the company is "trying to change local laws in Houston and Miami that block companies like Uber" (SFGATE.com, 9/4).
NOT ENOUGH: USA TODAY's Christine Brennan writes the NFLPA "can throw all the smartphone technology it wants at the issue of drunk driving, but it will never be enough." Players "always will want to show off their cars, even more so when they aren't thinking clearly." They will "say they are OK to drive home no matter how drunk they are," and they will "always be concerned that teams can track their use of the app, potentially getting them into trouble in whole new ways" (USA TODAY, 9/5).
The Vikings yesterday said that they "will work toward finalizing contracts critical to getting their new Minneapolis stadium built on time after a preliminary look at a state-ordered review signaled the finances of the team's owners pass muster," according to a front-page piece by Doug Belden of the ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS. The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority got an update yesterday morning "from auditors indicating that, even in a worst-case scenario, the damage award against Vikings Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf in an "unrelated civil case in New Jersey would not preclude them from contributing their share" of the $975M stadium project. The Vikings yesterday afternoon issued a statement stating that they "continue to believe the stadium will be completed on schedule." Belden notes the Vikings "broke off talks on the stadium use and development agreements Aug. 22, saying they would not return to the table till the 'due diligence review' of the Wilfs was complete." MSFA Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen "warned that pushing off agreement on those contracts -- which cover operations, division of revenue and other issues -- could delay the projected July 2016 completion of the project by a month" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 9/5). Kelm-Helgen said that "even in a 'worst-case' scenario involving a judge awarding tens of millions of dollars in punitive damages," the Wilfs appear to have the "'financial capability' to pay for their share of the stadium building cost." She also said that the "public board overseeing the development doesn’t need to wait for a judge’s ruling later this month to move forward with the project." In Minneapolis, Richard Meryhew in a front-page piece notes team officials "will return to the negotiating table to hammer out important lease and development agreements." Kelm-Helgen said she was more confident construction will stay on schedule "as long as the use and development agreements get done by mid-September." The Vikings are responsible for $477M of the construction cost (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 9/5).
Before the 49ers move into the cutting-edge Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara next year, they are celebrating their final season at Candlestick Park with a series of events and promotions capped off with appearances by team legends and a sale of stadium seats to season-ticket holders. The 49ers, which has played their home games at the 53-year-old stadium since ‘71, got the ball rolling on its “Farewell Candlestick” campaign last November with an online fan vote for the top ten greatest 49ers moments at the park. The month-long vote led to “The Catch” -- Joe Montana’s pass to a leaping Dwight Clark in the ’82 NFC Championship Game -- being voted the team’s No. 1 moment at home. The top 10 were then incorporated into the team’s presentation box for season-ticket holders. 49ers Marketing Dir Ali Towle noted that in order to create a retro feel, the red-and-gold box resembles an old-fashioned board game container, with the phrase “For Faithful of All Ages” prominently featured on the front.
MOMENTS IN TIME: Each individual game ticket features a photo depicting the moment to be celebrated at that game, alongside a booklet providing more details and quotes from players, and a commemorative Farewell Season pin. In addition, a July event was held to allow season-ticket holders to pick up their ticket boxes at Candlestick, with a last chance to visit the locker room and take to the field for a photo. The in-game celebrations got underway with the 49ers’ Aug. 8 preseason game against the Broncos featuring the No. 10 moment -- the team’s blowout of the Rams in the ’90 NFC Championship Game -- with former RB Roger Craig as honorary team captain. The No. 9 moment saw former QB Jeff Garcia serve the same role at the Aug. 25 game against the Vikings in honor of a '03 comeback against the Giants in an NFC Wild Card game. During the 49ers’ season-opener Sunday against the Packers, the team will remember QB Joe Montana’s return from back surgery -- although ironically, Towle said that Montana as of last week was not a sure bet to return for the day. However, WR Jerry Rice is slated to appear for the game celebrating his passing Jim Brown to become the NFL’s all-time top TD scorer, and Terrell Owens will drop in on Nov. 10.
BACK TO THE FUTURE: SAP, which is the naming partner for the 49ers’ new training facility in Santa Clara, will continue to be involved with the top 10 moments initiative, with all mentions officially presented by the company. The halftime show at each home game will include a video feature interviewing players telling the story of each moment. The field itself will feature end zone designs in the team’s classic “saloon font” as well as the Farewell Season logo at midfield throughout the year. National anthem singers for home games will continue the throwback theme, with Huey Lewis and Jeffrey Osborne among those performing. The 49ers plan giveaways during the year as part of the campaign, including the continuation of the team’s soccer-style scarf giveaway on Fan Appreciation Day, as well as a retro-design pennant for the final regular-season home game. Merchandise featuring the logo is available at retail stores and at Shop49ers.com.
GOING LONG: Pepsi, which in July signed on as the new soda sponsor for Levi’s Stadium, created 12-ounce cans featuring the Farewell Season logo for a local contest featuring the line, “Here’s To A Golden Era.” Towle said plans for the team’s final game at Candlestick are up in the air, depending on how deep a playoff run the team may make. In the meantime, the Farewell Candlestick website will be relaunched as a fan engagement tool. 49ers VP/Stadium Operations & Security Jim Mercurio said that pieces of the stadium will live on as the team is finalizing an agreement with the city for the team to sell seats from Candlestick to season-ticket holders. The 49ers hope to be able to begin selling seats in the next 30-60 days, in advance of the stadium’s anticipated deconstruction for approximately January ’15.
READY FOR LAUNCH: In this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, Terry Lefton reports Bud Light, Microsoft, Verizon and Visa also are "among the league’s partners launching NFL-themed national TV ads." NFL VP/Fan Strategy & Marketing Peter O'Reilly said, "Kickoff will never be the Super Bowl, but it’s become a powerful bookend for the season. When you look at how so many of our partners (are) using it, Kickoff has become another place for those associated with the NFL to be seen.” NFL Senior VP/Sponsorship & Media Sales John Brody: “For our sponsors, it’s become a creative beachhead. Super Bowl is a national holiday, and we’re slowly building another for Kickoff. We’ve got three different P&G brands (Tide, Old Spice and Gillette) launching NFL campaigns" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 9/2 issue).
The latest NFL Women’s Apparel ads, shot by Patrick Demarchelier, "turn football gear into high-fashion, as they merge team styles with luxe designs," according to Heather Zeller of AGLAMSLAM.com. The league unveiled its "latest apparel offerings" Tuesday night during a "Back to Football" fashion event in N.Y. The event was "presented by NFL Women’s Apparel and 2013 Creative Fashion Director, Phillip Bloch, in collaboration with Vogue magazine." The '13 collection features "everything from vintage tees, peplum tops and blazers, to handbags and statement jewelry." The "fashion-forward fan gear" allows females to "suit up in their team colors while maintaining their individual sense of style" (AGLAMSLAM.com, 9/4). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Marshall Heyman notes Bloch paired "bedazzled NFL team tops, sweatshirts and the like with outfits by designers like Cynthia Rowley, Charlotte Ronson and Zac Posen." Actress Susan Lucci modeled a "tight-fitting New York Giants T-shirt over a blue sequined dress," while MTV's Lenay Dunn wore "a gray New York Jets hoodie over a white gown." Suzanne Johnson, the wife of Jets Owner Woody Johnson, said the point of the fashion show and collection is to help women "look stylish on game day and beyond" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/5).
LUCKY CHARM: In Baltimore, John-John Williams IV noted the NFL "leaned heavily" on the Ravens when "crafting its newest commercial that promotes its new women’s apparel line." The 30-second spot, which premieres during Ravens-Broncos tonight, features coach John Harbaugh and RB Ray Rice's jersey. Harbaugh’s speech to the Ravens in '09 "serves as the commercial’s dramatic voice-over." NFL VP/Advertising & Creative Jaime Weston said that the commercial is the "latest attempt by the NFL to court women, who account for 45 percent of its fan base." It features fashion bloggers like Lindsey Calla, who publishes the Saucy Glossie blog, as well as the wives of Cowboys TE Jason Witten and Chiefs Dir of Player Personnel Ray Farmer. The NFL "tapped another Baltimore connection as part of its partnership with Meesh & Mia Inc., a fashion line for women who are sports fans." Actress Stacy Keibler is the "face for the company’s newest collection of clothes" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 9/4).
A HANDS-ON APPROACH: CoverGirl cosmetics has teamed with the NFL to create a "fanicures" nail polish line inspired by all 32 teams' logos and colors. The CoverGirl Outlast Stay Brilliant Nail Gloss bundles are on sale beginning today and are available only at covergirl.com/NFL. In addition, NFL fans will have the opportunity to experience "fanicures" in action at select home games inside the stadium at NFL Style Lounges and outside the stadium via CoverGirl mobile manicure stations (CoverGirl).
The Marijuana Policy Project yesterday announced that it has "posted a giant billboard advertisement -- within eye-shot of Denver's Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium -- that warns the National Football League: 'Stop Driving Players to Drink,'" according to Bruce Horovitz of USA TODAY. The 48-by-14-foot billboard, which "shows a football leaning against a foaming beer glass, advises: 'A safer choice is now legal here.'" Marijuana Policy Project Communications Dir Mason Tvert said because marijuana is now legal for adults in Colorado and Washington, and is not a performance-enhancing substance, "We don't think the NFL should be punishing players for using marijuana." Horovitz notes the same advocacy group recently posted a "high-profile, pro-marijuana video ad outside an entrance to -- but off the grounds of -- NASCAR's big Brickyard 400 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway." The ad "stayed up part of one day before it was taken down." But, "for the moment at least, the much larger billboard company that's posting this ad has no plans to remove it" (USA TODAY, 9/5).
WHAT'S IN A NAME? The AP's Michael Hill reports the Oneida Indian Nation in upstate New York will "launch a radio ad campaign pressing for the Washington Redskins to get rid of a nickname that is often criticized as offensive." The first ad will run on DC radio stations prior to Monday's Eagles-Redskins game. The ads launch as the Redskins this year "face a fresh barrage of criticism over their nickname." Subsequent ads will run in DC "during home games and in the cities hosting the team when it is away." An Oneida spokesperson did not offer specifics, but said the campaign would cost beyond "multiple thousands" (AP, 9/5).
AD WEEK's Sam Thielman reported Old Spice has four new 15-second ads ready for the NFL season featuring Broncos WR Wes Welker and Patriots LB Jerod Mayo that are "really funny." The ads, via Wieden + Kennedy, are done "in the same style as W+K's recent Old Spice bar-soap ads" in that they make fun of "basically everything with a choral jingle over an otherwise silent CPG spot in the 1980s" (ADWEEK.com, 9/4). In Providence, Mike McDermott wrote one "particularly funny" spot shows Mayo "surrounded by a pretty unimposing group of actors in Patriots uniforms while a coach draws up a play -- or is that an alien abduction scene?" (PROVIDENCEJOURNAL.com, 9/4). BLEACHER REPORT's Tristan Thornburgh wrote regardless of whether viewers find the ads funny, they are "some of the most outside-the-box advertisements featuring athletes on TV" (BLEACHERREPORT.com, 9/4).
SMOOTH OPERATORS: FORBES.com's Darren Heitner reported Gillette has signed Packers LB Clay Matthews, Giants WR Victor Cruz, Patriots WR Danny Amendola and Buccaneers RB Doug Martin for a new campaign that "includes four commercials focusing on the importance of precision both on the gridiron and with regard to the equipment needed to tackle shaving." The first ad promotes the Gillette Fusion ProGlide razor and features all four players "with different types of gear covering their face." IMG VP Carlos Fleming negotiated the Gillette deal for Cruz, who has "marketing ties with Advil, Nike, Time Warner Cable, Pepsi and one other brand that will be announced in the coming weeks" (FORBES.com, 9/4).
HAIR APPARENT: Campbell's Chunky Soup has officially announced Matthews will be the star of its ongoing "Mama's Boy" campaign for the '13 season. Matthews will appear along with Packers CB Casey Heyward and FB John Kuhn in three separate ads. As part of the agreement, Campbell will donate 1,000 cans of soup for every sack Matthews has during the season to both a Green Bay-based food bank and one in the opposing team's city (Campbell). The company's deal with Matthews was first reported in June by SportsBusiness Journal.
BROTHERS IN ARMS: Dunkin' Donuts has renewed its deal with Giants QB Eli Manning for two years, and will feature him in various ads and promos across the N.Y. region. Manning will promote the QSR's Iced Coffee and its new mobile app. Dunkin' Donuts is supporting the agreement with the "Eli's Way to Pay Instant Win & Sweepstakes" in which customers through Sept. 26 can text a phrase and discover instantly if they have won a prize. Meanwhile, Broncos QB Peyton Manning will again appear in a series of TV ads for Papa John's Pizza with company Founder, Chair & CEO John Schnatter (THE DAILY).
NOTES: Cowboys TE Jason Witten will appear in a new ad campaign for Levi Strauss' Denizen jeans line. A sweepstakes will give one fan an opportunity to watch a Cowboys game this season at AT&T Stadium....49ers LB Patrick Willis has signed to endorse protein beverage line Rockin' Refuel. He will appear in a national TV campaign for the drink (THE DAILY).
With changes in technology and rising TV rights fees, the NFL’s media presence has continued to grow. THE DAILY conducted a roundtable with five leading national NFL color analysts -- Fox’ Troy Aikman, NBC’s Cris Collinsworth, ESPN’s Jon Gruden, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock and CBS’ Phil Simms -- discussing their views of topics affecting broadcasts across the league.
Collinsworth said information on every team has
become easier to access
Collinsworth: It’s changed a lot of different ways. I started in ’90 I think -- calling games -- and for me to get stories about the Seattle Seahawks was really difficult. I was buying every magazine, trying to get on local radio shows -- I was doing anything I could to try and learn about that local team. Now, with the Internet, every game video is available in HD on NFL.com. The only way we got access to the game tapes was to go to that city, go sit in their offices and they would let you watch it for a period of time, and that was a big part of the game prep. Now, there’s not the remotest possibility that I could watch everything I want to watch; read everything I want to read or study everything I want to study before we go on air.
Mayock: Things for me, thankfully, haven’t changed a whole lot. I think you still have to get the football part of it right. It’s the old John Madden thing: If you get the football right, everything else will be fine. And I look at that as my job: I have to get the football right. Now, as far as the rest of the industry, and doing shows in the studio, a lot has changed.
Simms: I have an instant replay where I can go back and forth, which I do like. I use it most of the time for overhead views that explain why somebody scored a touchdown or is wide open, or an interception of a play of some kind.
Gruden: Calling games has changed because the game itself has changed; the no-huddle offenses, the option football becoming prevalent in pro football. You're not studying pass rushers; you're studying the read and the mesh of the quarterback. You're looking at different things; you're anticipating different situations now because of the nature of the game. And very importantly with the rule changes in regards to player safety, you've got to really be careful that you see the video before you comment because it is a very controversial matter right now, players and how they tackle, et cetera. I think those are the big changes.
Aikman: We’ve got the cable cam, and that I think has changed the way that we shoot the game and I think it’s a great camera that gives insight for the fans -- things like that that have certainly changed the way the game is seen. But as far as what I do or how I do it, I wouldn’t really say there’s been a dramatic shift in the last 13 years or has been for quite some time. I think technology certainly has impacted the experience for the viewer in a positive way -- it’s gotten them very, very close to the action on the field and I think that’s something that television is constantly striving to do, but for broadcasters when it’s all said in done, it’s a couple of guys ... talking about the game and presenting it to the fan and trying to give some insight into the game.
Q: How has social media changed broadcasting?
Collinsworth: You don’t need television critics anymore. If you want to know what people think about you, you can find out in short order. ... The first game I called after I’m on Twitter, and I go, “Oh, okay, let me go on here and look at some of the nice things people said about me.” Not so much (laughing). That was a mistake; that didn’t work out so well. It’s cruel. It’s like doing talk radio; when people are anonymous, what they say is completely different than what they’re going to do when they come up and see you in person.”
Mayock: There’s just so much awareness of the social media, and there’s so many immediate critics out there. Twitter, Facebook, whatever, that are voicing their opinions immediately and it seems like almost every show I watch these days, any kind of studio show, has a social-media piece to it. They’re looking for feedback from fans and trying to get the fans actively integrated into it, so I think it’s huge in the industry. But I think as far as actual game coverage during the live event, we have better technology but I think it’s still just about doing the game.
Q: How do you foresee the future of broadcasting with respect to the integration of advanced stats?
Collinsworth: Is there an interest on my end in all that? Yeah. Am I paying attention to it? I am. Am I reading all of it? I am. ... For the most part, I don’t worry too much about the statistics of the specifics of what’s going on because from what’s going on from our standpoint, it’s about people; it’s about matchups.
Mayock: Analytics has quickly become an accepted term in any major-league clubhouse. So I think it filters outward from the infrastructure of the teams themselves, and now it’s moving into the broadcasting industry. Because the reality is, my job is information-based, and I get most of my information from watching game tape and from talking to coaches. However, I’d be kind of dumb if I didn’t try to understand that there are certain statistical analyses that can help me do my job better.
Simms: These greats stats and all that, I don’t see it going too far. If I’m watching a telecast, if we want to start saying, “Hey, 33 percent chance they can pass, and 67 percent they won’t. What will they do!?” Then, boy, I won’t say I’ll be looking for a new job, but I’ll be shocked if it goes that way.
Mayock said the NFL's blackout rules aim
to protect the integrity of the game
Mayock: When the NFL became what the NFL has become, it was because of the advent of television. I think it was a natural sport for television, obviously. And I think the blackout policy helps protect the individual franchises. From my perspective, I think all the individual teams are fighting hard now to sell out games. It’s a little different when you can sit at home without worrying about weather or anything else. ... I still think the NFL is trying to protect the integrity of the game at the stadium with the excitement. I understand what they’re trying to do, and I empathize with it.
Simms: The NFL is a great game; there are a lot of smart people running it, and business-wise they seem to be working things out pretty well. ... Whatever they’re doing, the program they got, it seems to work. I will answer this: I think there is becoming a fine line between the enjoyment of football on TV and the enjoyment of football at the stadium. Everybody’s staying home. Not that it worries me, because I can understand it. … The experience of being at a game -- it’s great. But the games are pretty great on TV too.
Aikman: I would never say people not coming to the game helps the product. But there was a time when, the reason they even had these blackouts was because they wanted to drive people to the game and that’s where the revenue was. Obviously there’s been a dramatic shift in terms of the last 40 years or whatever it’s been. Now, they’re loosening the blackout rules because so much of the revenue -- most of the revenue -- is generated based on TV. It certainly televises better when there’s a full stadium and people are at the games. It obviously has become more and more prevalent than where it once was. And to a certain extent I think that’s because of a couple things: With the rising costs at stadiums and the rising costs of the ticket prices that they’ve out-priced a number of fans who enjoy coming to the games. And also the experience at home has gotten so good that the fan is more and more inclined to stay at home and watch from the convenience of his own living room.
Q: How do you view whether analysts are giving enough attention to the head-injury issue during broadcasts?
Collinsworth: It is the most important subject going on right now when it comes to the game of football, because I think for the first time in my lifetime, you have people considering whether it’s the right thing for their kids to do. And we have long stories and a lot of discussion about why they shouldn’t. But I think that deserves a little balance from the standpoint that, I hate to think about our society with some of the kids that don’t always have great situations -- if we take away the influence of high school football coaches and coaches in general in any sport. I will fully admit that every time I forget someone’s name, I go, “I wonder if this is related to playing football?” With all the discussion going on, I mean none of us know what impact this game has had on our lives and will have on our lives in the future. So, if I talk about it anymore, I think people would throw me out.
Simms: What can I tell somebody that they haven’t heard 50 times? The one thing I can tell them is this: The NFL is doing everything they can to change practices; to change the way people do it at all levels; and they’re changing the game. What more can you do? I live it; I know it -- I know people who are older and younger than me that are former players. Each generation is going to see a tremendous improvement in overall health once they’re out of the game as we go along.
Gruden: Try not to turn the football game into a player safety matter. When you have a live football game, let's report the game itself. We try to cover as many different players in the game that we can. It's a great honor to be in this league and play on “MNF.” It's the only game going, so we try to stick to the game as much as possible, and I think that's the best approach to have.
Aikman: I don’t think people tune into the game to hear anyone break down the concussion issue and the safety issue of the sport. I think everybody recognizes it; I think most fans are aware of it. We touch on it if someone suffers a head injury; how then that’s handled and treated amongst the medical staff and trainers on the sideline. But to get into a discussion about the merits of the litigation now that’s it obviously been settled, I just didn’t feel like that’s the platform to do that.
Simms likes Bills RB C.J. Spiller's potential, but
thinks he is hurt by playing on a losing team
Collinsworth: A guy who I think would be a really good broadcaster is Matt Hasselbeck. I’ve always thought that he was really knowledgeable; he has a really dry sense of humor in talking about the game. ... You know who’d be good one day if he ever wanted to do it is London Fletcher. He’s fantastic. Everything he says sounds like an analyst; you get really insightful answers and he’s like the quarterback of the defense. He’s the one making the calls.
Simms: C.J. Spiller. He’s so fast with the ball, if he was in a big market with some splash on a winning team -- I mean C.J. Spiller, it’s a great name too. When I’ve seen him play in Buffalo I think, “Why haven’t I heard more from C.J. Spiller?” Well we don’t hear from anybody until they play great, play on winning team, get in the playoffs and somehow catch our fascination.
Aikman: Victor Cruz. He’s not a guy I know but I think he has a lot of upside when he’s done playing, and has an opportunity or already has to get involved in a lot of things.
DirecTV hopes several enhancements to its NFL Sunday Ticket digital app "will help to continue the subscriber momentum for the out-of-market game package," according to R. Thomas Umstead of MULTICHANNEL NEWS. DirecTV last year said that it "garnered a record number of subscribers to the package," and industry experts "place Sunday Ticket subscribers at around 2.5 million." DirecTV is "holding the price to $299.95 for its robust Sunday Ticket Max package -- which includes mobile and online access to NFL games, along with the NFL Red Zone channel -- but will increase its basic package, featuring high-definition games and a 'Game Mix' mosaic channel to $225, up from last year's" $199.95. DirecTV VP/Revenue & Product Marketing Alex Kaplan said that the price change "shouldn't affect buys for the basic package, which remains a very popular option." Kaplan added that he "believes the satellite service can improve on last year's record numbers." DirecTV also "enhanced its highlight capabilities" for its NFL Sunday Ticket app. Highlights on the app last year "could take several hours to appear on the app after the initial play, but this year users will be able to access highlights almost instantly after it happens" (MULTICHANNEL NEWS, 9/2 issue).
SI this morning debuted a new weekly online video program, "Pro Football Now," devoted to analysis of the NFL. The show will be hosted by Maggie Gray, who also leads SI's daily midday video program "SI Now." Former Giants WR Amani Toomer will serve as lead analyst, and the program will be based in Time Inc.'s new video studio in its N.Y. HQs. "Pro Football Now" will continue going forward in its Thursday 10:30am ET time slot. John Hancock has signed on as the presenting sponsor. The debut of the program extends a heightened interest by SI in original video, as also seen with the June debut of "SI Now," live specials devoted to the NCAA men's basketball tournament and NFL Draft, and "SI Swimsuit Live" this past February. "The new Time Inc. video infrastructure with its cutting-edge studios and robust distribution network is an important statement to the advertising community that we are going to be a major player in the video space," said Time Sports Group President Mark Ford.
STATE FARM JOINS MMQB: SI also has signed State Farm as the fourth sponsor of "The MMQB," the NFL-devoted site led by Peter King. State Farm joins existing sponsors Bose, Gillette and Microsoft's Windows 8. State Farm in particular will sponsor King's "Tuesday Morning Mailbag," a new weekly video series titled "On Further Review" that will analyze coaching decisions, and forthcoming midseason reports and playoff previews.
THE MMQB's Peter King wrote the N.Y. Times has "made a smart hire in retaining" former NFLer Scott Fujita as a regular correspondent. Fujita is "one of those players who always saw every side of the game -- from the league’s perspective, the union’s perspective and the player’s perspective." He also is working for FoxSports.com, and on Friday wrote a "gem on what cutdown day is really like, including the memory of a teammate throwing a chair when he heard he was about to be cut" (MMQB.SI.com, 9/2).
OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD: In N.Y., Bob Raissman reported Fox' Pam Oliver "suffered a concussion" during pregame warmups for the Aug. 18 Colts-Giants game when a pass thrown by Colts QB Chandler Harnish "hit her flush on the side of the face." Oliver went to the doctor the next day, and her CT scan "came up clean, but she was diagnosed with a concussion." She "spent the next five days in a dark room inside her home." Oliver said, "I worried about my memory, but after five days things began clearing up. I felt clear-headed and stronger, but the headaches still come and go" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/1). Oliver's story was profiled on NBC's "Today" on Tuesday morning (THE DAILY).
WEEKNIGHT EDITION: NFL Network announced a revamping of its weekday evening schedule, with a three-hour block of live programming now running from 6:00pm-9:00pm ET. "Around the League Live" with host Andrew Siciliano starts at 6:00pm, followed by "Around the League Primetime" with host Lindsay Rhodes at 7:00pm, and "NFL Total Access" with new host Dan Hellie at 8:00pm (NFL Network).
ACROSS THE POND: In London, Sunni Upal reported Absolute Radio in an exclusive deal has "secured commentary rights" for the NFL in the U.K. The station will "broadcast twenty live games throughout the season on Sunday nights," including the two NFL games at Wembley Stadium and Super Bowl XLVIII. Sunday's Packers-49ers game "will be the first live match on Absolute Radio this season." The deal marks "the first time that NFL games will be heard weekly on commercial radio" in the U.K. (London DAILY MAIL, 9/4).
NOTES: "Finsiders," a show about the Dolphins produced by the team, "will become a daily staple" on FS Florida starting Monday. It will air from 5:00-6:00pm ET and "begin a year-round run in the time slot" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 9/4)....Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia announced that former NFLer Brian Westbrook is joining the RSN's "Eagles Pregame Live," "In-Game Live," and "Eagles Postgame Live" shows for the upcoming season (Comcast SportsNet).
In N.Y., Howie Kussoy cited data from TiqIQ as showing that the Giants "currently sport the third-highest home average ticket price on the secondary ticket market" at $346.72, and the Jets "rank 15th in the NFL with an average price of $186.32." Despite the return of CB Darrelle Revis, the "average ticket price for the Jets' game against the Buccaneers is $168.54 with a get-in price of $67." At the start of the '11 season, the Jets' average ticket price was $234.61 and "went down to $194.03 last season." The Giants, whose ticket prices "only trail the Bears and Patriots," have seen a nearly 9% increase annually since an '11 average of $272.87. Helping "drive up the average is the Giants' home opener against the Broncos, which might be the final meeting between Eli and Peyton Manning" (N.Y. POST, 9/4).
PATRIOT GAMES: ESPN's Keith Olbermann examined the Patriots decision to release QB Tim Tebow, saying, "Eleven for 30 with two interceptions are not the Tebow stats you should be looking at." Prior to last season, the "top-selling jerseys were all new models: Robert Griffin III, Peyton Manning post-Colts exodus and Tebow Jets." The day the Patriots signed Tebow, they "blasted an e-mail to everybody in the world to advise them they could pre-order Tebow jerseys at $100 apiece before they had even assigned Tebow his own uniform number." The Patriots "wound up paying Tebow about $9,000 for the games he suited up for," and even with a $1,000 per diem, he "made less than" $40,000 as a member of the Patriots. Olbermann: "His salary was covered if they sold only 400 Tebow unis." Tebow jerseys were still available even after he was cut, but "you couldn't find one" of backup QB Ryan Mallett ("Olbermann," ESPN2, 9/3).
QUOTH THE RAVEN: In Baltimore, Childs Walker wrote Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome's ability to "look past the emotion of the moment was the story of the Ravens' offseason." Team Owner Steve Bisciotti said of Newsome, "He's always a calming presence." Walker wrote players, coaches and fans "express little fear that the franchise will lose its way." Bisciotti said he "absolutely" would feel greater anxiety defending the team's Super Bowl title without Newsome calling the shots. Bisciotti added that he talked with Newsome about his future and "came away certain that Newsome planned to stay." Bisciotti: "If I had that fear, I would've been more reluctant to back this purge of these veterans" (Baltimore SUN, 9/4).
GET YOUR MOTOR RUNNIN': In Detroit, Bill Shea reported the Lions on Sunday will "host an elaborate Bud Light-sponsored pregame tailgate party near the stadium's Gate A entrance on Brush Street, replete with five food trucks, picnic-style eating and music." The team also is "rolling out a tablet app, has installed new turf, has bolstered Wi-Fi connectivity and plans a new game introduction production." Additionally, the Lions "dropped sales of the slick full-color game-day programs and instead will give fans a fold-out roster upon entering the stadium" (CRAIN'S DETROIT BUSINESS, 9/3 issue).
WHAT NOT TO WEAR: ESPN.com's Paul Lukas in his "Uni Watch: 2013 NFL Preview" wrote the Dolphins' new uniform set is "not terrible, but everything about it -- from the helmet logo on down -- feels like a downgrade from the previous set." However, the Jaguars are "now wearing the worst helmet design in NFL history." Lukas: "Half black and half gold, half matte and half glossy, it looks like someone started spray painting it and then wandered off to get a beer halfway through the job." While the Jags' new logo "is actually an improvement," it is "too bad it is stuck on such a laughably bad helmet." Meanwhile, the "upgrade of the year goes to the Vikings" (ESPN.com, 9/4).
LOVE TO HATE YOUR TEAM? The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Rachel Bachman noted Emory Univ. professors Michael Lewis and Manish Tripathi during last season monitored Twitter after regular season games and "logged whether the tweets mentioning an NFL team in that team's hometown were positive or negative." Raiders fans "hate-tweeted their way to the title of most unstable base in the NFL, with an index of 47." The Cowboys had "the most stable fan base, with a score of 4.8." The Steelers and Patriots "weren't far behind Oakland, with volatility ratings of 46.5 and 44, respectively" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/5).
Many South Florida residents see Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross' $200M donation to the Univ. of Michigan "as a thumb in the eye," according to Beasley & Mazzei of the MIAMI HERALD. In the wake of Ross' efforts to secure $350M in public funding for upgrades to Sun Life Stadium, reaction among Dolphins fans is largely to ask why Ross cannot "pay for the stadium repairs himself" if he can afford the donation. Ross said, "They are very different subjects, and I think it is important to be committed to both. As I've often said, I've promised to pay a large portion of the stadium upgrade costs but, the community who would substantially benefit also needs to be involved." Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban Bovo said, "I don't really see a correlation between the two. He and his staff and people made a calculation to go after public money. They had their justifications, according to them, to do it, and others had different opinions" (MIAMI HERALD, 9/5). In West Palm Beach, Andrew Abramson notes the donation "led to an outcry on the Internet and on sports-talk radio" (PALM BEACH POST, 9/5). ESPN.com's James Walker wrote the donation "may rub some Dolphins fans in South Florida the wrong way." But, "right or wrong, don't expect" Ross' donation to "sit well with many Florida residents and perhaps the state legislature if the Dolphins seek public funding again next year" (ESPN.com, 9/4).
BIGGER & BLUER: UM AD Dave Brandon said that he "began speaking to Ross two years ago about his vision for the athletics campus, including 16 projects, with three currently ongoing." He added of the project's estimated price tag of $350M, "We've spent this money and more." Brandon said that the renovation of Schembechler Hall, which contains the football offices, and training and weight rooms, will be "completed by next spring." In Detroit, Angelique Chengelis notes a softball building "currently is under construction and improvements to the field hockey stadium are next." Brandon would "like to have all of the facilities done within the next 10 years." Among the remaining improvements are "to the golf clubhouse, lacrosse and aquatics facilities, and a competition arena for gymnastics, wrestling and volleyball" (DETROIT NEWS, 9/5). Also in Detroit, Laura Berman writes, "For all the fabulousness these gifts portend, they are also exclusive, directed solely toward future moguls and managers, football players and star athletes." The $100M athletic donation "will benefit a few hundred athletes on a campus of more than 42,000 students." Berman: "No future doctors, engineers, biologists, teachers or social workers will likely be touched by Ross’ beneficence" (DETROIT NEWS, 9/5).
NFL Giants President & CEO John Mara is profiled by Art Stapleton of the Bergen RECORD, who writes while Mara has won two Super Bowls since taking over in '05, he "does not sleep very well." Mara is "often out the door of his Westchester County home by 5:30 a.m. for a gym workout before heading down the highway for another day during which he harbors some of the same concerns as the thousands of fans who cheer for his team." Mara said of Giants GM Jerry Reese and coach Tom Coughlin, "I ask a lot of questions, as they’ll tell you. I just find it’s a good way to stay involved and also to kind of understand who’s doing what. I feel better about it. If I’m away from practice for a few days, you lose track of what’s going on." Mara's nieces -- actresses Kate and Rooney -- are "responsible for putting the Mara name in lights in Hollywood, but there is little debate that football remains the family business." Mara said, "We have some very loyal fans that have been with us for a long time, who we have asked a lot from. We charge them a lot of money to buy tickets for this stadium, so you feel an obligation to put a winning team on the field, and it hurts when you don't." Patriots Owner Robert Kraft said of Mara, "I think his grandfather and father would be very proud if they knew how he handles things and represents the organization in the league and their family." Reese: "He lets me do my job. He lets Tom Coughlin do his job. But he’s always around, he’s always asking questions, and I like that about him. ... When the players see him, they know it’s important to him, and they’re like, 'Wow, the owner is out here watching practice, it’s 20 degrees out'" (Bergen RECORD, 9/1).
NBC Sports analyst and former Chiefs GM SCOTT PIOLI in a special for THE MMQB wrote of "natural internal divide between football and business" in NFL front offices. Pioli: "I have witnessed friends deal with this dynamic that fosters internal politicking and reveals insecurities on both sides of an organization. The football side creates a constant drain on an owner's finances. We are talking expenses." People on the business side very often "have similar backgrounds to the owner." They speak "in a language much more familiar to the owner." Often the two sides are "trying to poke one another in the eye or win favor in the eyes of the owner behind closed doors." The relationship "between business and football is one of interdependence and the two sides truly need one another in today's NFL" (MMQB.SI.com, 9/4).
ANIMAL PLANET: Thirteen Panthers players, "along with a few cheerleaders and coaches, are featured in a Humane Society of Charlotte calendar" that goes on sale tomorrow. Some players "posed with their personal pets and others with shelter animals in need of adoption." The idea came from Panthers coach RON RIVERA's wife, STEPHANIE, who "pitched it to the Humane Society." She then "recruited her husband's support, and he gets credit for finding players to pose with the pets." The project is not technically an official Panthers charity effort, but a "matter of Ron and Stephanie Rivera looking to give their own time and money to help out local charities" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/5).
BITE OUT OF THE BIG APPLE: The Vince Lombardi Trophy yesterday was on display on the "Huddle Shuttle" in N.Y., which is a "specially designed truck that will feature Giants and Jets items as well as Lombardi memorabilia." The truck will make "several stops over the next five months in all five New York City boroughs as well as select spots in northern New Jersey as the league prepares" for Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. The specific stops for the shuttle "are expected to be announced next week" (NORTHJERSEY.com, 9/4). The trophy yesterday at Tiffany & Co. in Manhattan was "transferred gingerly to a 42-foot-long gooseneck trailer." For a league that has "mastered the art of the mega production, an overlarge silver helmet rested atop the cab" of the shuttle (NJ.com, 9/5).
NAMES: An SI.com survey of 12 NFL GMs showed that Patriots coach BILL BELICHICK and Ravens GM OZZIE NEWSOME are the "best head coach and best general manager" in the league. The GMs who participated "were promised anonymity and could not vote for anyone on their own teams." Belichick "received nine of the 12 votes for best coach," while Newsome "also got nine votes" (SI.com, 9/4)....In Milwaukee, Bob McGinn writes under the header, "TED THOMPSON Sticks To Blueprint In Building Packers' Roster." The Packers' GM for the seventh consecutive year "has overseen a process that resulted in about 25% turnover from a year ago" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 9/5)....In Baltimore, Nelson Coffin profiles Ravens VP/Stadium Operations ROY SOMMERHOF, noting he is a West Towson, Md., resident who majored in sports management “at tiny St. Thomas University in Florida after graduating from Towson High in 1975.” Ravens President DICK CASS said Sommerhof is “widely respected as one of the best stadium operators in the league” (Baltimore SUN, 9/5)....NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL yesterday visited Under Armour's Baltimore HQs (Baltimore SUN, 9/5).
Success on the field continues to be a major factor for NFL teams when tracking their popularity through Facebook and Twitter. Fan participation data through the social media outlets of NFL teams over the last 11 months was used to analyze team popularity levels. Playoff runs that ended in the Super Bowl were beneficial to the Ravens and 49ers being in the top five of the league in both new additions and overall percentage added. Teams finding recent success in the playoffs such as the Seahawks, Falcons and Texans all saw a nice increase in popularity by percentage points. Popular franchises like the Steelers, Cowboys and Packers saw large increases through total additions that kept them in the top five of overall popularity. Teams from smaller markets with losing seasons in '12 that saw the lowest amount of additions include the Titans and Jaguars, with each seeing less than 80,000 combined additions. Listed below are combined Facebook likes and Twitter followers for NFL teams’ official pages/feeds from October '12 compared to September '13.NFL TEAM SOCIAL MEDIA THROUGH SEPT. 4
TEAMTOTAL12-MONTH INCREASE Texans918,169292,7271,210,89644.3% Ravens1,513,926359,0611,872,98739.6% 49ers1,939,861441,5522,381,41338.2% Falcons1,071,661248,4421,320,10335.3% Seahawks915,154258,2331,173,38734.1% NFL7,887,9534,964,44612,852,39926.1% Jaguars320,56896,455417,02323.5% Panthers603,997178,925782,92221.3% Cardinals580,18564,091644,27620.3% Redskins1,139,124236,9931,376,11720.1% Rams424,803131,887556,69020.0% Broncos1,566,815311,4821,878,29719.1% Bills444,811179,255624,06617.3% Browns650,121184,080834,20117.1% Buccaneers566,517132,268698,78516.5% Bengals668,908186,489855,39716.3% Lions884,480249,5111,133,99115.7% Chiefs682,483180,420862,90314.4% Raiders1,959,109281,5902,240,69912.7% Titans542,705141,686684,39112.6% Giants2,722,907488,5683,211,47512.3% Dolphins1,351,104244,8951,595,99912.0% Patriots4,082,743656,1464,738,88912.0% Bears2,745,007341,3063,086,31311.1% Vikings1,433,571245,6911,679,26210.4% Packers3,521,652514,9114,036,56310.4% Eagles2,073,473328,1142,401,5879.3% Cowboys5,488,950626,6696,115,6199.1% Jets1,501,937591,7852,093,7228.1% Chargers1,230,688224,8481,455,5367.9% Steelers4,930,754588,7535,519,5077.5% Saints2,978,691352,0843,330,7756.9% Colts1,692,799182,5871,875,3866.4%