Mark Cuban is right to warn about greed, but the NFL is smart enough to adjust
NFL has the brain trust to stay in its prominent position in the sports world
Seattle Times columnist
As he is wont to do, Mark Cuban opened a can of worms over the weekend. More fittingly, a package of porcines.
The Dallas Mavericks owner was talking to a reporter before the team’s game Sunday, and the topic turned to pro football. He offered the opinion — which then shot around the Web with lightning speed — that the NFL, as omnipotent as it seems at the moment, is getting too greedy for its own good. So greedy, in fact, that it’s headed for a crash.
“I think the NFL is 10 years away from an implosion,’’ Cuban said, as quoted on ESPNDallas.com. “I’m just telling you: Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. And they’re getting hoggy.”
It’s hard to argue with Cuban’s basic premise that the NFL seems intent on world domination. Or, more accurately, revenue saturation. But will that ever-expanding landscape — the hogization of the NFL — lead to the downfall of the league as we know it? That’s a pretty big leap of faith (or lack of faith, actually), and one I’m not quite prepared to make.
The source of Cuban’s dire prophecy, at least initially, was the expansion of the NFL’s television package to include 14 Thursday night games on CBS as well as the NFL Network, and two late-season games Saturdays.
“When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way,’’ Cuban said. “I’m just telling you, when you’ve got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns on you. That’s rule No. 1 of business.”
For the record, that’s five “alwayses,” which research by the Elias Sports Bureau reveals to be a world record for shark investors. In a subsequent Facebook post Monday, Cuban elaborated on his comments, citing five causes of concern for the NFL.
Besides the expansion of the television broadcast (“They’re trying to take over every night of TV. It’s all football. At some point, the people get sick of it”), Cuban listed safety concerns related to concussions (an extremely valid issue), player misbehavior eventually turning off fans (less so), an overreliance on Fantasy Football (I don’t see it), and the changing nature of television and how it’s accessed by consumers (notable, but not a deal-killer).
Cuban repeated the line about pigs and hogs (maybe that is his homage to proud Arkansas Razorback Jerry Jones across town) and concluded: “You shouldn’t try to get every last second of a person’s attention or every last penny that you can squeeze from them. … Customers/Fans/Advertisers know when they are being pushed. They know when they are being squeezed. It always ends up costing the business in the end.”
The NFL, however, is hardly the only sports league that can be accused of being hoggy. A large portion of the Major League Baseball fan base might still be unaware that the regular season began last weekend with two games in Australia. The opener between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks began at 1 a.m. here (actually later, because of a rain delay), just as the Mariners-A’s opener in Japan two years ago was played in the wee hours back home. But Bud Selig is willing to make that sacrifice in pursuit of the internationalization of the game.
The NCAA seems to have an infallible product with its basketball tournament, presented in a format that approaches perfection, despite some grumbling over the play-in games. But there are periodic discussions of expanding the field (and the television deal along with it, no doubt), and though they’ve been squelched so far, you know it’s going to happen one day. Soo-ey!
I won’t even get into the Pac-12, which has significantly bumped up its revenue stream with the new television network, to the delight of member schools but frustration of consumers, who have to deal with: A) all those night football games and; B) the inconsistent starting days and times of basketball games.
As for football, I truly believe that despite Cuban’s well-stated concerns, the sport is well positioned to maintain its dominance of the American sporting landscape. Nothing lasts forever; just ask MLB, which ruled for a century before watching the NFL supplant its primacy. But when you have such trifles as the combine and a virtual noncontact all-star game drawing big numbers, it’s clear that the NFL’s hold on the populace is vast, pervasive and virtually unshakable.
Yes, the concussion issue is a huge one, especially if the next generation stops playing in droves. And there’s absolutely the risk of oversaturating the product. It’s headed in that direction, as Cuban points out.
But if the NFL has proved one thing in the last half-century, since the savant Pete Rozelle guided it toward parity and untold riches, it’s this: It has the brainpower and vision to figure out what the people want, and deliver it. Because that’s where its self-interest lies. The first task on its agenda must be the development of a helmet that withstands the increasingly violent hits meted out by NFL players.
If people are getting demonstrably sick and resentful of televised football, and make it known they’re being too hoggy on other fronts, they’ll cut back. Eventually. The motivation to do so will be just as Cuban surmised: Greed.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives his take on the local and national sports scene.