The State of the NFL: It’s in Trouble

Both President Trump's State of the Union address and the Democratic response, delivered by Stacey Abrams, who came close to getting elected governor of Georgia last fall (although unfortunately for Ms. Abrams, close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and nuclear attacks) laid bare the deep, fratricidal divisions in American society, culture, and politics.

And these divisions are seriously impacting the NFL, where Sunday's Super Bowl LIII had the lowest ratings for any Super Bowl within the past decade.

In recent years, visionary owners, most notably Jerry Jones of the Cowboys, have been imagining a gridiron utopia in the not-so-distant future, in which 40 teams (five in each of the present divisions) play an 18-game regular season, at the conclusion of which 16 of them make the playoffs.

But as Billy Joel sang in his 1983 single "Allentown," something happened on the way to that place: they threw an American flag in their face.

Actually a national anthem, not an American flag. But hey, close enough.

The usual talking heads are blaming the fact that Super Bowl LIII was the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history for the game's dismal ratings. But are we to believe that the tens of millions of people who had decided not to watch the game even before the opening kickoff were clairvoyant? And there was absolutely no reason whatsoever to expect such an outcome: the 2018 regular season was the third highest-scoring in NFL history (only 1948 and 2013 were higher in terms of points scored per game by each team), and total yards per game and passing yards per game were also both near record highs. So using the 13-3 final score by which the Patriots defeated the Rams as an excuse for the low ratings is a dog that simply won't hunt.

True, a Chiefs/Saints matchup probably would have generated more interest, and therefore, more viewers: Fans are not quite as tired of Drew Brees as they are of Tom Brady, while Jared Goff is about as charismatic as a mouthful of sawdust and water. And Patrick Mahomes is the future of the AFC, if not, indeed, the entire NFL.

The bottom line is that ratings, ticket purchases (particularly season tickets), and cable package purchases (NFL Sunday Ticket of course being the prime example) are driven, primarily at least, by a very particular demographic: white males over 50 with annual incomes of $100,000 or more, and within that segment, white males over 65 with annual incomes of $250,000 or more — the very demographic that was angered the most over the national anthem protests (even though by the end of the 2018 regular season only three players out of 1,696 were still engaging in said protests — Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson of the Dolphins, and Eric Reed of the Panthers, who also did it along with Colin Kaepernick when they played together for the 49ers).

And all the "social justice" commercials which aired during the Super Bowl didn't help the league's cause with this demographic, either, who you can bet heard about the ads even if they didn't watch the game, as their favorite sources of "news" (FOX News, Newsmax, and One America News Network, along with the voluble Rush Limbaugh) no doubt gleefully reported about the ads, and their content (the truly tiny size of their print notwithstanding).

When the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation went belly-up in 2010, people snickered that only the government could lose money in the bookmaking business.

If the NFL isn't careful, it could suffer the same fate, even if it isn't a government entity, which would make it still more pathetic.

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