NFL's Red Zone Package: Not Your Average Money Grab
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
In promoting its Red Zone TV package, the NFL, by way of its burgeoning powerhouse NFL Network, proclaims: "Your Sundays will never be the same."
Well, as much money as the NFL's broadcasting partners have been paying for close to 50 years now, shouldn't those partners be screaming from on high: "What's wrong with the way Sundays were?"
From what this observer can see, the only thing wrong from the NFL's perspective with "Sundays the way they once were" is the suckers (read: fans) at home are forced to watch and digest entire football games -- and watch those games on the networks paying billions of dollars to the league to gain access to viewers' eyes, ears and pocketbooks.
The current contracts the NFL has with its network partners running through 2011 read like this: NBC pays $3.6 billion, CBS pays $3.73 billion and Fox pays a cool $4.27 billion. When adding in ESPN's $8.8 billion through 2013, the NFL's TV haul totals more than $20 billion.
Lest anyone think the violins should be pulled out for the networks, especially considering they will pay the NFL for the rights to these games even if the games are not played in 2011, the folks at NBC are paying 10 p.m.-loser Jay Leno $25 million a year and Meredith Viera $11 million. Also, CBS pays the spectacularly-unwatchable Katie Couric $15 million annually and Charlie Sheen $1.25 million per episode for "Two And A Half Men."
But getting back to the Red Zone for a hot second. What do these same networks that fork over $20 billion-plus get back for these monstrous sums of money? Well, they used to get the NFL games, perhaps the greatest delivery system to specific male demographics on network television. Now? They get something vastly different.
The networks without N-F-L in their call letters get a product the league deems no longer good enough, not action-packed enough, not injected-into-your-veins-fast-enough football.
How else can someone take the statement, "your Sundays will never be the same" but to mean, "What's over there is old-fashioned football, not really worth your time anymore? Games only matter when a team gets to the 20-yard line."
In 10 years, maybe they can name the area inside the 5-yard line the "Gold Zone" and create a network that gives fans action there even faster.
The NFL is ultimately telling every fan who doesn't bet on games or own a fantasy team: the game of football between the 20-yard lines isn't very interesting.
The NFL makes this big pretense of being above the gambling fray. But the Red Zone is exposing watching an entire NFL game to be like a night with Lady Gaga, not as exciting as it might sound.
The NFL's delivery system always has and always will be part and parcel of the action it delivers to bettors. Bet in a $100 block pool, wager in a suicide pool, be a member of a fantasy league or a members-only betting club -- slice it and dice it any way you want, the action is in the action.
Yet for one who sees all of this clearly, it feels like the proverbial falling tree in the forest with no one around. My sound doesn't seem to permeate the league's rather thick walls.
Perhaps NFL Players Association president DeMaurice Smith has it all wrong in his negotiations with the league. The NFL owners are pushing 18 games claiming the public doesn't want four preseason games, and the extra revenue from two more regular seasons will be enough to have the players' take stay the same or even increase.
Perhaps Smith could argue teams play entire Red Zone games. Forget all this stuff in between. Let's just get it all out of the way, play the games with each team getting a set number of possessions in the red zone.
Can you imagine how many fewer concussions there would be? How many fewer torn ACLs and MCLs there would be? And with fans trained to have even shorter attention spans, the NFL could increase the schedule to 25-30 Red Zone games. And that could lead to 50-60 Gold Zone Games.
The possibilities are endless.
Issue 153: September 2010