SBD/March 25, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Mark Cuban: TV Greed, Injury Risk, Dependence On Fantasy Could Hinder NFL

Cuban said the NFL risks oversaturation with games on multiple nights
Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban yesterday gave more reasons as to why he believed the NFL "will implode" in 10 years, listing on a long Facebook post his reasons, which "included injuries, poor player behavior [and] TV issues," according to the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Cuban wrote of football's inherent injury risk, "I wouldn't want my son playing football, would you? I'm sure helmet technology will improve over the next 10 years, but why risk it? There are plenty of sports to play." He noted there is "nothing wrong" with the NFL expanding their Thursday night broadcasts to a full season, calling it a "great idea." But he added, "If they continue this trend of adding games on more nights (I have been told they are looking at Saturday Nights as well) ..., they risk over-saturation, a decline in interest by current, and non NFL fans feeling imposed upon because of the relative popularity of the NFL." He wrote TV saturation is "not the NFL's biggest risk" going forward, but it is instead fantasy football. Cuban: "When I broached the topic of the NFL being too aggressive and possibly devolving from 'piggy territory' to 'Hoggy Territory,' the recurring response was that Fantasy Football is the difference. That Fantasy Football drives interest in the NFL. Could a $100 billion dollar venture really be dependent on how many people sign up for leagues to get points for plays and bragging rights with their friends ? If the answer is yes, that is a problem for the NFL and to a lesser extent all pro sports" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/25). Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy yesterday responded to Cuban's initial comments, saying, "As a league we have to be cautious. Obviously, we're in a strong position now. I think some of the initiatives and the growth have been well-thought-out. I think we're optimistic and hopeful that we'll be able to continue to grow the game and have it continue on without risk of having a downturn or some issues in the future" (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 3/25).

KRAFT NOT TOO WORRIED: In Green Bay, Mike Vandermause reports execs yesterday at the NFL owners meeting did not "dismiss Cuban as a crackpot, jealous owner in a competing league," but they instead "pointed to pro football's ever-rising television ratings and unmatched popularity." Patriots Owner Robert Kraft said, "If we have a problem, I hope it continues the way it is. Just look at the Super Bowl, it was the most-watched program in the history of TV, and 34 of the 25 top prime-time programs in 2013 were NFL games" (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 3/25). Kraft added, "Each one of our Super Bowls has topped the last as the most watched program on TV ever. ... I’m pretty proud that every one of our games in the home markets are on free TV. I think we’re the only sport that they can say that and if we’re oversaturated, may the good Lord keep doing it to us just the way he is doing it now. I like what I see” ("PFT," NBCSN, 3/24).

ON SOLID GROUND RIGHT NOW: In Seattle, Larry Stone writes despite Cuban's "well-stated concerns," the NFL is "well positioned to maintain its dominance of the American sporting landscape." It is "clear that the NFL’s hold on the populace is vast, pervasive and virtually unshakable" based on high ratings for "trifles" like the Combine and Pro Bowl (SEATTLE TIMES, 3/25). ESPN's Dan Le Batard acknowledged what Cuban said "makes sense," but fans have not "shown any interest that's declined yet." Le Batard: "It keeps growing because we keep growing it." But ESPN's Bomani Jones said, "More and more they wind up pouring more water in the Kool-Aid until you wind up diluting it. Add that to all of the safety stuff and he's got a point. Nothing grows forever" ("Highly Questionable," ESPN2, 3/24). ESPN's J.A. Adande said, "People can't get enough football on television. There's no such thing as overexposure for the NFL, not when the NFL Draft does better numbers than NBA playoff games." He did say if the NFL is "going to have a demise, it's going to come from the fear of head injuries." Adande: "That's going to keep parents from letting their kids play and the talent level will diminish." ESPN's Max Kellerman said there is "such a thing as overexposure." Kellerman: "If by implosion he means it will stop growing, yes, it eventually reaches a saturation point" ("SportsNation," ESPN2, 3/24).

ONLY TIME WILL TELL: In Minneapolis, Michael Rand cites Harris Poll data as showing that the NFL is "still by far the most popular sport among U.S. sports fans," as 35% of respondents said that the NFL is their favorite. MLB was "a distant No. 2." The gap "doesn’t figure to shrink in any meaningful way anytime soon." Rand: "A generation from now? At that point, Cuban might be onto something, but oversaturation of the product won’t be the only reason. ... The combination of the sport’s concussion problem, a gradual boredom with fantasy football and our increasingly short attention spans will not be the death of the NFL, but they will cause a decline in the league’s popularity over time" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 3/25). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, "I don't see in 10 years the NFL having any problems. Maybe it's much more down the line. Baseball used to have the kind of hold on America football has now. Baseball doesn't have it anymore, it got passed. Football, if it's too arrogant, can get passed too. I just don't see it happening in 10 years" ("PTI," ESPN, 3/24).

CONSIDER THE SOURCE: YAHOO SPORTS' Eric Adelson wrote Cuban's remarks "shouldn't be dismissed," as his "business acumen is unquestioned." So is "his constant attention to what consumers want." His point "becomes more credible when the most popular sports of the last century are considered." They "included horse racing, boxing and baseball," none of which "are the most popular now" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/24).
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