Jake’s Take: Inside the Business of the NFL

The professional sports industry is one of the biggest entertainment industries in the country, and they are led in revenue by none other than the National Football League. As shown in the graph below, the NFL is the dominating economic force in professional sports. Take a quick peek at the data I’ve gathered, and you’ll see what’s up:

To see such a wide disparity between the NFL and the other U.S. professional sports enterprises is almost unsurprising, considering the amount that football is covered. Right now, the top four teams in all of baseball have been determined and are battling it in out in the League Championship series, and almost all that sports fans can talk about is football. Think of this: the Toronto Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals are down to Game 6 of their series, and the big sports storyline is the that the Seattle Seahawks may or may not be back on track after defeating the erratic and downright terrible San Francisco 49ers in an utterly meaningless Thursday-night game. This is the true definition of a monopoly on the minds of sports fanatics in the richest nation in the world. All of this revenue and popularity, though, cannot change these three simple truths:

  1. The economy of the NFL is suffering.
  2. The officiating in the NFL is unsettling.
  3. The front office of the NFL is reprehensible.

Pardon my frustrated, brash and immature diction in the preceding three points, but they are all true, and they all had to be said by someone. Now, I am in no place to judge the NFL or make wildly outrageous assertions about what Mr. Goodell should or should not do with the league, but that is exactly why I will be doing it. Stay tuned while I break down all of the problems in the NFL, all the while hoping Roger Goodell happens upon this article.

NFL’s Economy

In May of this year, the NFL raised its debt ceiling per team from $200 million to $250 million per franchise. This means that the franchises that earn, on average, $286 million are now allowed to borrow up to 87 percent of their yearly revenue. This may not be as out-of-the-ordinary as you might think, though. For example, on page 320 of the Francis Howell School District’s preliminary budget for the 2015-16 school year, one can see that the district is planning to spend upwards of $15 million more than what they expect to earn in total revenue over the same time period. The point being that it is not uncommon for businesses (especially those in the education and entertainment industries) to purposefully put themselves into debt for what they perceive to be the greater good.

This egregious and habitual spending is, of course, a very common business practice and a very dumb idea. The idea of plunging oneself into debt is fundamentally contrary to the entire capitalist system in place in America, yet there seems to be no other way to run a business. The adage “You have to spend money to make money,” is the basis of this surprisingly effective debt-to-profit system. The problem arises when one piece of the industry spends well over their limit, like the Atlanta Falcons whom are plummeting $850 million into the red to finance their new stadium project. There are, in actuality, very few complaints about the outcome of the NFL’s spending, with the Falcons being the exception to the rule. Tripling your yearly revenue in debt is never a good idea, and I’m sure the major pundits and even casual fans in the South will be having a field day with the irresponsible amount of debt the 5-1 Falcons are now in.

NFL’s Officiating

To paraphrase the words of Daniel Defoe and Benjamin Franklin, there is nothing certain in life except for death, taxes and missed calls by NFL referees. Week in and week out, the only thing that is heard about on a more consistent basis than the Republican presidential candidates is the lack of consistency in the officiating of the NFL. Each week, we as football fanatics can count on three or four major blown calls that even my grandma could’ve made. A catch is a catch, no matter what Walt Anderson or Dean Blandino say. Warning: The previous link contains material that may not be suitable for readers who are fans of good officiating. At least Mike Pereira agrees with you. The officiating in the NFL is simply a mess right now. The current officials are botching everything from catches, as described above, to penalties, like the seven admitted missed calls from the Detroit-Dallas playoff game last January, to everything in between, and there seems to be no end in sight for both the missed calls and the scorn and ridicule from NFL fans toward the men charged with keeping the game fair.

While I am not a fan on the NFL’s rulebook at all, the officials seem to be doing the best they can with it. I’m not sure where these numbers came from (my guess being the backside of a certain commissioner), but over the entire 2014 season, the NFL Office of Operations reports that their referees made the right call 95.9 percent of the time. That number is impressive, but it could tell a different tale. That number means that the officials followed the rulebook with their decisions 95.9 percent of the time. The current NFL rulebook is riddled with vague language and the ever-present and always awful term of a “football move” that a receiver must make before they can be considered a runner. What exactly is a “football move,” you may ask? No one knows! The term is often the deciding factor in the completion of a pass, but it is never specified in the rulebook what exactly a “football move” is.* Other than the discrepancies in the rulebook and clear, debatable judgement calls on catches and penalties, though, the NFL officials are doing the best that they can, and that’s really all we can hope for from a group of 50+-year-old white guys trying to keep up with some of the best athletes in the world.

Don’t Even Get Me Started on the NFL’s Front Office

And, finally, we have the NFL’s front office, led by none other than Public Enemy No. 1 in the New England area, Roger Goodell. If you don’t know why that is, I’ll suffice to say that Roger Goodell doesn’t like Tom Brady playing with his balls the wrong way. Speaking of the Deflategate suspension, or lack thereof, I’ve put together a graphic of the most impactful and/or the most talked about suspensions of the 2015-16 season (including the Ray Rice suspension from last season) below. This should give you an idea about the effectiveness of the NFL’s front office:

All five of the suspensions in the chart underwent the long, laborious process of appeal through the trustworthy (well, more so than the NFL’s) judicial system, and all of the suspensions, except for Josh Gordon’s, technically, were reduced, most of them being very significant reductions. For various reasons including lack of evidence, lawyer quality, etc., Roger Goodell has consistently had his suspensions fall through upon review. Not all of that can be pinned on a hotshot legal team. Eventually, Goodell is going to have to face the fact that he will not be able to solve all of the NFL’s problems by handing out irrational suspensions willy-nilly. Reform takes time, and this is something that the NFL’s current commissioner does not seem to understand.

Under the current leadership in the National Football League, there is a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in place. If the fans do not demand proof of corruption, the NFL will not supply it. As long as no one comes forward to address the lying, corruption and cheating in both the players and executives, nothing will change. You may be starting to say something along the lines of, “But Goodell has caught the Patriots twice! And he got the Saints with Bountygate!” and you’d be half-right. Spygate, while something shady was definitely going on, was blown way out of proportion; Bountygate was not cheating, plain and simple; and Deflategate was just Goodell trying to set a new precedent for punishment in the league. Even if all three of those incidents were as serious as they were made out to be, those are only three incidents in almost a decade. I’m no mathematician, but I think three is too small of a number of cheating scandals for more than eight years.

If Goodell is truly focusing on ending corruption in the game of football, I wish him the best of luck. I hope he succeeds, but he will not be able to do so as long as he has the fans and executives against him. We long for a return to the golden days of football, when Pete Rozelle was at the helm of the newborn league battling it out with the likes of Al Davis to ensure a competitive game in which the Raiders wouldn’t injure too many opponents in their contests, but those days are long gone. The Raiders are mediocre at best, just like the commissioner, and it will take a lot of hard work to repair both.

As an admitted addict to the NFL, I love the sport and the hypothetical gameplay, but there need to be serious changes made. These changes will only begin once the NFL’s front office, specifically Roger Goodell, realize that there is a clear disconnect between the fans and the game stemming from the economic gap, the outdatedness of the rulebook and, most importantly, the horrendous decision making by the commissioner- a man squandering his position by enforcing menial and ineffective penalties rather than attempting to adapt the league to America’s ever-changing sports landscape.


*If you have any insight into what a “football move” is, or if you can help me find closure as to what actually constitutes a catch, I will be huddled in the fetal position replaying the Tyler Eifert “incomplete pass” from Week 3 on repeat in Room 026 at Francis Howell North High School.
All data in the story from foxsports.com, sportsbusinessdaily.com

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