Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 25 No. 49
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

NFL Remains King, Though Questions Exist About Game's Health

Many pundits wonder if safety issues and recent rule changes will affect the league's standing this year
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The NFL begins its 99th season tonight with Falcons-Eagles, and there is a "sense of the unease around the game," according to Michael MacCambridge of THE RINGER. There is a "feeling among many people in the game that the NFL can't seem to manage a narrative anymore and too often finds itself behind the curve of public opinion." There also is a "larger existential threat: the growing, inexorable realization that head injuries in the NFL are far worse than many football fans suspected even a decade ago, and that the NFL has been, at best, slow to recognize and address this problem." It could be argued that the "image of the league itself has never been worse." However, in terms of revenue and ratings, the NFL's "'sick' still looks a lot better than anyone else's 'healthy.'" What is "undeniable is that something in the air is changing around football," and it is fair to wonder whether the game's "popularity has already crested." It is "significant that after two years, the league still seems unsure about what to say or how to publicly handle" player protests during the national anthem. The "only thing everyone agrees on is that they're tired of the problem." The NFL has "continued to prosper by generating enough money," but at times it "seems like the league's solution to almost everything is to generate more revenue." One team exec said, "It's way out of control. They generate every dollar they can at the expense of the game" (THERINGER.com, 9/5). In DC, Matthew Paras writes the public's view of the NFL is "certainly darker than it used to be" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 9/6).

CONTINUING DOWN THE WRONG PATH: This season marks NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's 13th year in office, and NBCSPORTS.com's Peter King asked his Twitter followers last weekend whether they "approve or disapprove of Goodell's performance in office." Around 79% of the 28,113 who responded by Sunday night "said they disapprove of the job Goodell has done." The owners who employ Goodell are "concerned that he's so reviled, but they also know he takes so many bullets for them." King: "I can't imagine a scenario in which Goodell can turn around his image -- and I don't see much of an effort by the league to try." For a league "so powerful and successful, this is a conundrum that the NFL cannot make go away" (NBCSPORTS.com, 9/3).

NOT EVERYTHING IS DOOM & GLOOM: SI.com's Conor Orr wrote despite all the NFL has "gone through over the last decade, the league still carries tremendous weight." The ground "shakes whenever it moves." TV programming is "at its mercy, as are most of the politicians, [business] moguls and executives pulled into professional football's orbit." This indicates "good overall health for the NFL despite recent indicators of uncertainty" (SI.com, 8/31). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Andrew Beaton notes the NFL's best players are "getting richer than ever." In a "slew of deals in recent days," stars like Bears LB Khalil Mack, Rams DT Aaron Donald, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. have "broken the bank like never before." At a time when the NFL "faces headwinds and questions about its long-term strength, a run of megadeals are a sign of the game's financial health" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/6).

AN EASY CHOICE: In DC, Deron Snyder writes despite "qualms about the players' physical side effects and disdain for the owners' blackball" of Colin Kaepernick, he plans to continue watching the NFL "because it's entertaining." He is "unconcerned by what happens during the national anthem" and his "appetite for the action isn't spoiled." He also does not "have a guilty [conscience] for 'supporting' a league that has treated" Kaepernick and S Eric Reid "so unfairly" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 9/6).

INSIDE SBJ: SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL as part of its NFL season preview takes a look at all things football, including who and what to watch for this year, how legalized gambling may impact the league and what top network execs expect from a ratings perspective.