There is probably no bigger topic in business than the current debacle taking place within not just the NFL®, but all sports and the media that covers them.
Political protests are now not only the topic du jour, but nearly the entirety. So far off-the-rails of sports has this become that it lends itself to replace one old sport joke with another. i.e., Remember the old, “I was watching a boxing match and a hockey game broke out!” joke? It was funny because it had an element of truth behind it.
Today? It runs along the lines of “I was watching a political debate and a football game broke out!” This is leaving fans not only far from laughing, but they’re turning off and away from these venues in droves. And it’s not in the latter stages, rather, it’s just the beginning.
I was asked the other day in conversation (the reason why is because of my prior acumen. e.g., I’m a former turn around specialist.) what I would recommend if I were called in to advise what the NFL should do as to both arrest its ever falling ratings, along with how they could go about rebuilding both the sport, brand, and the image of the entire enterprise.
Here is my response, I’ll use a few bullet points for this example. First:
- Fire the current commissioner: Roger Goodell.
The reasoning is simple: He’s been ineffective in addressing the issue (and many others years prior) of protests publicly, as well as what’s been inferred privately. The more he speaks, the more he appears to be on a different footing than the owners. The only thing worse is his latest public appearances via the media where he sounds absolutely robotic and focus-group driven. i.e., Says a lot of words using current phraseology that mean absolutely nothing, to anyone. He needs to remember he’s running a business enterprise, not a government one, which demonstrates de facto my assertion to begin with.
- The owners have to re-emphasize, unanimously, that they are in a business – first. And, that business rules and ethics need to be applied, across the board, now. i.e., Current rules for conduct and more need to be applied with no-quarter vigor. Or said differently: star players can/should be ejected, suspended, or fired for proven violations. Period. (I’ll get to Players Union later)
The reason for this is simple: You either have rules, or you don’t. If “grey areas” aren’t allowed on the field, then neither should any other, whether it be a rule that applies during a game, or off the field.
- Now is the time to not only change many of the rules, but also the enforcement mechanisms behind them.
In other words: Breaking rules have to have serious consequences. This is that moment to make sweeping changes in all areas for both the good of the teams and players, but the sport itself. No “dancing around the edges” is warranted in existential moments of business crisis. Wholesale changes are the order of the day. It’s the only effective course of action.
- Of course here’s where you’ll get push back from the players and union. So here’s my point:
The NFL (and all sports for that matter) are a business. And without net profits to enable the owners to pay for players skills? There is no business. Political stances and other such distractions on the field are not “rights” owners have to pay for. What they have to pay for is the equal treatment and rights of players against extorting policies that can hurt or leave a player physically harmed. Not to enshrine the “rights” for the political player of the day to bring an entire industry too-its-knees with his/her politics.
What owners do not (nor should) have to pay for (nor stand for) is to have players interject their politics, and in ways, which can subsequently kill the sport in its entirety across all venues. e.g., Ticket sales, media coverage, advertisers, et al.
Yet, here is the “money quote” if you will: All while the “protesting” players continue to collect their salaries in toto and unaffected by their protests.
Currently it’s the owners, along with the entire sporting complex that are the ones continually suffering both financially, immediately. The players immediate monetary cost for protesting? Zero.
That is, until the NFL itself goes bankrupt as a result. Then everyone (i.e., players, owners, even municipalities alike) will be in bankruptcy court together. All kneeling, in unison, for the same reasons. Think about it.
Again, there’s far too many rules and such to address for this summary. So here’s a few more quick points:
- The mindset going in has to be both forceful and understood by all – that if these rule changes are not enacted, the franchises, along with the sport itself, is at the cusp of collapsing both financially, as well as its esteem in the public eye.
Reasoning: 30% projected decreases (so far) in revenues or attendance in just one year, across the board itself, are going to put many current markets into total disarray financially. If this holds to (or through) next year? Or worse – is worse? Everyone concerned is going to have plenty of time for taking a knee in solidarity – at the unemployment lines.
- Ban all political protests across the board immediately, along with over-the-top celebrations (i.e., end zone dancing and such) anywhere on the field or sidelines during games.
This is where sportsmanship can reassert itself back into the game and is so desperately needed. In other words: The “field of play” is a place for sport – not political sport, or poor sportsmanship. The visual cues would have immediate impact and would be easily discernible to the fans. i.e., No reading-between-the-lines interpretations needed.
In my opinion: You can’t ban one without the other and have either one stick. Do both. And make the fines punitive, as in violations can be punitive to the sum of $Millions, if not entire contract dismissals. i.e., What enforcement is there if $100K fine for a violation makes that athlete $1Million worth of ancillary media self promotion for having a “bad boy” persona? Both on, and off the field.
People are dismissed from employment everyday throughout the U.S. for inappropriate use of social media alone. Businesses have the right to distance themselves from employees should they demonstrate not only on the job, but off bad behavior that could reflect poorly on their employers business.
Currently sports is the only venue where felonious arrests are now seen as “career enhancements.” It’s gone well beyond the pale of defensible reason. (For those currently howling as this is ridiculous or unfair? Hint: See any college professor for not touting just the ideology line of that particular day.)
- There needs to be a short and concise message aired by the team owners and player representatives before each of remaining games. i.e., The owners of that games teams and their player representatives whether they be the team captains or such.
Both the owners, along with player representatives should make a televised public announcement before each game stating they are all in favor of removing politics from the field of play during game time. And are.
They both (owners and players) need to make the point, and make it forcefully, that “this stage” is for sports, not politics.
They can state that doesn’t mean that they don’t have views which they firmly believe in. But (and it’s a very big but) during the game is not the place for it. i.e., Say something to the effect: “We know why you’re here, and it’s to see our game, not our opinion of politics. And we respect that. And we will show our respect for you by not protesting the political during games. There are other venues for that outside, where we can make our voices heard, along with yours should the need arise. So let us start by saying, thank you for being a fan. And we want to give you what fans like you truly deserve – the best game, at the highest level of athleticism and sportsmanship we can deliver. Again, thank you, and enjoy the game.”
It can all be worded and shot in a 60 second venue.” Less is more.
- If players don’t agree? Don’t sign or renew contracts going forward. Regardless of the talent or marquis name. Even if it means lockouts and more. Period. Full Stop.
Why? The political intrusion of just one individual (e.g., Colin Kaepernick) has demonstrated that all it takes is one to bring down the entire franchise, if not sport. It’s the NFL today, I’ll garner it’ll be the NBA® next and so forth. It has to stop somewhere. Might as well stop it where it started – for the good of all sports.
Remember: It’s “taking a knee” today. Tomorrow? ___________(fill in the blank) and it will never stop, and it’s already shown how far and fast it’ll spread. (Hint: again, see NBA for latest clues)
The only way to get rid of the political – is to get rid of it all together. And there is no price to be paid today that will be higher than what will be extracted tomorrow – willingly or not. i.e., A 30% decrease in revenues and viewership will look “fantastic” as compared to what looks to be coming on the horizon should this all continue.
There’s only one choice in this matter: Remove the political in one entire sweeping motion, much resembling the amputating an entire limb to save the body. Or, die-the-death of a thousand political cuts, day in, and day out, from this moment forward.
Allowing the political to enter into the sports world resembles much that other old sage about pregnancy. i.e., There’s no such thing as “a little bit.” You either are, or not.
Just like politics, you either are a political game, or not. The only way to relinquish the ever tightening death grip of politics into sports is to jettison it entirely. And yes, using another old sage fits, just not in the way most think of it. i.e., Erring on: “Throwing the baby out with the bath water” needs to be the rule, not just the cautionary tale. At least in the near term.
So now the big question: Will any of the above be even remotely enacted? All I’ll say is this – and it comes via a career of experience.
I highly doubt it. All sides are trying to be simultaneously “politically correct” while traversing the “political, ideological line.” You can’t have both. The only thing that’ll finally get everyone on the same playing field will be when the franchise bankruptcies begin to appear. And by then (if it isn’t already) it’ll be too late.
© 2017 Mark St.Cyr