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With Increasing TV Revenues, NFL Seems 'Too Big To Fail'

February 16, 2015

Some bean counter at NBC pointed out that 120 million people caught the end of Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks Feb. 1, and that doesn't even include the multitudes watching between swigs of beer in neighborhood taverns. 

Meanwhile, good ol' NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is firm in his hopes to grow the league's revenue from $10 billion to $25 billion (TV willing). Do you think the suggestion that he be canned has any chance with the team owners? 

Issue 193: Roger Goodell
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox

To review, despite all manner of awfulness happening in the NFL since before the 2014 season started, all anyone seems to want to think about or comment on during the concluding chapter of the campaign was whether New England let some air out of a couple of footballs. 

While all this was going on -- meaning Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and about 27 other instances of domestic violence, plus the usual police blotter stuff -- the league stared off into space hoping for an answer. 

The term "Too big to fail" came to the forefront numerous times, even when a raid on five NFL teams by the Drug Enforcement Agency crept into the news unnoticed. 

The thing about it is that while most folks are thinking it's time the hugely successful NFL went about the business of getting its operation at least halfway reputable, the question heard far and wide is, "Can the game get even bigger?" 

Years ago, the question was being asked "Now that the Super Bowl has passed St. Patrick's Day and Easter on the holidays list, can Labor Day and Thanksgiving be far behind?" Don't look now, gang, but is Christmas in sight? 

Of course, any thoughts of doubling or even tripling the revenue of the league pretty much depends on how much money TV can be coaxed into parting with during the next several years. Judging by how much the industry has parted with during the past several contracts, it would seem TV money, whether it comes from advertising or cable subscription fees, is a bottomless pit. 

Suggesting the pit is indeed bottomless can be seen from the fact that college football and its somewhat uninteresting bowl program is doing marvelously, and no one can figure out why. This past season produced unexpected riches that didn't make sense. 

With the new College Football Playoff grabbing about 90 percent of the interest, the constantly expanding bowl season not only seemed to hold its own, but picked up more revenue showing games that fewer and fewer fans are interested in watching in person. 

Despite bowl attendance being down an average of 10,000 during the last two decades, the rights fees continue to plow ahead because people will vote with their remotes. 

One minor bowl game, the Camellia Bowl played in Montgomery, Ala., Dec. 20 saw Bowling Green beat South Alabama, 33-28, and draw a ho-hum 20,256 fans to the stadium. But on TV, the Camellia Bowl grabbed 1.11 million viewers, according to an article in USA Today. That's just about the same number of TV watchers that tuned in to see the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox 2013 season-opener on ESPN, the article reported. On average, the full slate of bowl games crushes MLB in national TV games, by about a 2-to-1 margin for viewership, USA Today reported.

Getting back to the NFL, the league has always exhibited a knack for getting the most TV money for its games. It all began in 1970 with "Monday Night Football" on ABC and continues today with CBS and the league's own NFL Network, splitting usually bland "Thursday Night Football" games.

The original intent of the league was to come up with one game it could switch to pay-per-view to make a killing. That hasn't been necessary so far, and it has done massive business selling weekly packages of all games to satellite carriers. The next step, it would seem, is to break up those packages and sell every individual game on pay-per-view. 

Plus the fact that Europe will become part of the show at some point. Then, the real selling job begins -- Asia, Africa, and maybe even the North and South Poles. Don't bet against Goodell reaching his goal of $25 billion revenue per year, especially if he can hold his job.

Issue 206: February 2015