Sunday night’s Super Bowl came in as the third highest-rated TV show in the history of TV. That’s pretty impressive when you think that the most people to ever watch anything at once before 1920 was probably a hundred thousand scared people walking towards a large battle, or maybe a bunch of dinosaurs watching a comet burn through the atmosphere for a couple of seconds. That probably turned a few heads.
I used to love the NFL. Now I like it very much, at least enough to watch it three to six hours a week for five months out of the year. If it weren’t for fantasy football I guess I’d cut that figure in half. And most people I watch football with haven’t watched more than five minutes of any pregame or studio-related football show in the past three years.
That said, the NFL is still the hottest ticket in television. The ten highest-rated TV shows of 2012 were all professional football games. So from the outside things are going swimmingly, but the NFL has a major problem brewing, and it centers around its own arrogance as well as the media covering it.
The NFL thinks its fans are stupid. They think I’m stupid, and they think you’re stupid. They think your grandfather, who had season tickets for twenty-five years, is a barrel of laughs, holy shit what a rube he was. They look at their paying customers like a crack dealer looks at an addict: “Add more baking soda. What are they gonna do, call the BBB?” Years of growing television ratings and lucrative TV deals have conditioned them to think this way. It’s natural that the only outcome of their success would either be incredulous disdain for their customers as cash cows, or the belief that they’re the smartest business people in the world. Maybe a little of both. Evidence of this attitude towards their fans is apparent everywhere you look, most notably in how the game is covered.
You know how I know the NFL hates me? Take your pick of any pregame show: Fox, CBS, NFL Network, ESPN, or NBC. They’re well past the point of being genuine with their audience. These hosts are on the outer edge of the NFL’s outsized growth. They are the first symptom of a cancer that is affecting a much larger body under the surface. Did you know the NFL Network has a morning talk show? It’s unwatchable. I’m not sure how many people are slamming Tuesday screwdrivers on their couches and waking up bleary-eyed to get their news from Dennis Green. And don’t tell me that the NFL V.P. who’s in charge of the Play 60 campaign doesn’t admit to himself in moments of internal vulnerability that sending NFL players to .00001% of all elementary school classrooms nationwide with a ten-person production company in tow isn’t accomplishing anything. The NFL suspects its own fraudulence, so they double the ad budget for Play 60.
Do you know how to make kids get in shape? Continue giving young men millions of dollars to play football. Do you know how to have millions of dollars to give to young men? Have a little humility. By slamming down on the accelerator, you can and will push customers away as you force them to realize they do have other ways to spend every waking hour besides consuming your product or by-products.
To hazard a guess, I would anticipate next year’s Super Bowl comes in right around fourth place on the all-time ratings list, as the league becomes a brontosaurus pointing a telescope aimlessly into the sky.
Eric Sollenberger lives in Austin, TX. He doesn't keep anything weird, he drives a car, and he drinks expensive beer without irony.