Opinion: Moving Teams Reveal NFL Instability

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Ventura County Star (California)


What has happened to the NFL?

Just a few short years ago, it was not only the biggest and most successful sports league in the world, it was one of the most successful businesses as well. You couldn't turn around without seeing something connected with the NFL.

Everyone wanted to be associated with the NFL. They wanted to be the official whatchamacallit of the NFL. They wanted to be able to show that shield logo next to their own.

From that aspect, things may not have changed all that much. But the value of such an association is going down.

The NFL may not exactly be in trouble, but there are signs the league is having trouble keeping all the plates spinning.

The Rams and Chargers moving to Los Angeles and perhaps the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas may be at least somewhat exciting for the cities getting those teams, but it shows instability in the league.

Moves usually happen as a result of two things: poor management that results in poor play on the field and/or an owner who is unable to get public funds for a new stadium.

Ask formerly passionate fans in Baltimore, Cleveland (twice), St. Louis (also twice) and now San Diego what they think about the NFL now.

Chargers chairman Dean Spanos, on one hand, understandably felt 15 years of frustration over not being able to figure out a way to finance a new stadium in San Diego. On the other hand, San Diegans understandably didn't want to foot most of the bill for a $1.8 billion stadium/convention center.

As a San Diego Union-Tribune editorial put it, "taxes can just as easily go to roads, pensions and the poor in San Diego instead of further enriching the NFL."

With the NFL refusing to put any more of its own money into the project, Spanos was left with little choice but to join the Rams in their garish new stadium in Inglewood, even if it means playing two seasons in Carson's tiny StubHub Center while it's being built.

As ESPN.com writer Seth Wickersham put it, the NFL has "an owner unwillingly moving a team to a city that doesn't seem to want it, sharing a stadium with an owner, Stan Kroenke, who doesn't want to split it."

TV ratings for NFL games were generally down this season, something that would have previously been unthinkable. In the first 14 weeks of the season, ratings were down 10 percent. A lot of that may have been due to a unique presidential campaign, but it's still a red flag.

Lower ratings, for whatever reason, show that your product just isn't as significant as it used to be. They show people they can live without it and once that starts, it can be difficult to restore it.

Now people in Los Angeles, the second largest TV market in the U.S., will be forced (DirecTV Sunday Ticket subscribers notwithstanding) to see Rams and Chargers games in place of what was previously a best-game-available policy. NFL rules stipulate all teams' games be shown in their home market.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Rams' 12 appearances on Fox's KTTV (Channel 11) averaged only an 8.3 local rating. The Chargers' nine games on KCBS (Channel 2) had just a 6.6 rating (L.A. had been considered a secondary market for the Chargers).

L.A. is a notoriously indifferent TV market. If the Rams or Chargers don't improve their lackluster on-field product quickly (or perhaps even if they do), having even two teams in town isn't likely to give much of a boost to TV ratings.

In addition to all this, there's still the NFL's elephant in the room: concussions. The game has become more and more violent as players become stronger and more athletic. More and more of the game's greats are regretting they even played the sport.

"If I knew back then what I know now," former NFL star Bo Jackson told USA TODAY Sports last week, "I would have never played football. Never. I wish I had known about all of those head injuries, but no one knew that. And the people that did know that, they wouldn't tell anybody. The game has gotten so violent, so rough. We're so much more educated on this CTE stuff (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), there's no way I would ever allow my kids to play football today.

"Even though I love the sport, I'd smack them in the mouth if they said they wanted to play football. I'd tell them, 'Play baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, just anything but football.' "

The NFL has looked invincible for so long, but as it heads toward its 51st Super Bowl, there are cracks in its iconic shield.


Jim Carlisle's email address is [email protected] Follow on Twitter: @VCSJimCarlisle .

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January 17, 2017


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