NFL owners are considering adding another regular season game or two to their burgeoning schedules, and cutting back on pre-season games. It seems to make business sense: bigger viewership, more fees, higher sponsorship revenues, and, in theory, added TV advertising dollars.
The problem is that this is 2009 -- not 1999. In the midst of a recession and some some trying times for TV networks, adding more NFL advertising inventory will just glut up a market that is already soft.
Media executive say that last season -- right in the teeth of a dramatically slowing U.S. economy -- TV networks had a difficult time selling NFL advertising inventory, including some touch-and-go problems where NBC sold a premium Super Bowl spot in February to a direct-response TV advertiser.
But NFL owners aren't interested in that. Even if the sports TV advertising market isn't growing, there is always market share to be had. Perhaps they believe fourth quarter college football TV money will flow in their direction, or some late-season Major League Baseball money.
NFL owners are counting on consumers to lead the way. They sense that no matter how the economy performs, consumers will continue to watch TV -- perhaps even more so in a weakened economy in which many industry experts predict mass levels of "cocooning."
Higher viewership makes sense for the NFL. NFL owners know more than anyone that NFL ratings have been one of the most stable forms of TV programs in terms of ratings for years.
But the big question: What advertisers will be there to support this added viewership?
Even after the recession is over -- which may not happen until after the next football season -- fundamental changes among key, long-time businesses, will occur. The automotive and financial industries, both key TV sponsors of NFL football over the years, will transform the ways they market their products.
All that will leave TV football networks -- CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN, and even NFL Network -- with more viewers as well as more sales calls to the likes of Cash4gold.com.