Commentary

NFL Markets One Image -- But TV Viewers Might See Another Picture

Football, the biggest sport in the U.S., continues to bring in major ratings via gridiron action on the TV screen. But some off-the-field activity has become public  -- like the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice cold-cocking his fiancee in an Atlantic City casino elevator. An on-screen video of the action surfaced on Monday.

The jury is still out on what this might means for the NFL brand. Still, note this: bad off-screen activity hasn’t seemed to slow down ratings for football games before. But this was clear, direct on-screen evidence, no explanation needed, with Rice’s fiancée out cold from the punch in the face. This wasn’t offscreen drug use or a gun-toting incident in a bar.

Before the elevator incident, Rice was one of 39 players to start the year on suspension in the NFL, but he had one of the lightest sentences: a mere two games.

Now? Immediate action. Essentially the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens have fired Rice. You want to blame the NFL, Rice, or the Ravens? Go ahead. But we are left with a lot of issues -- including seemingly criminal ones. As well as continued talk about “protecting the shield,” the NFL’s image. What does that mean, exactly?

Yes, you can point to scores of other players doing the right thing and their good work, which doesn’t always get the TV/video play it should.  But, of course, it’s the sensationalized stuff that grabs the headlines.

It’s not just players’ bad behavior -- you also have the whole medical/concussion issues that still haven’t been resolved, either.

Yet hunger for NFL product continues to grow -- especially from TV viewers. This week CBS will start to dip its toe into the waters with Thursday night football games.

Right now the NFL brings in $9 billion each year from licensing the deals with TV networks for its games. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell believes overall TV license revenues could reach $25 billion by 2027, according to the Washington Post.

That said, NFL looks to keep its product in a scarcity mode -- restricting live games to traditional TV networks where it can garner the highest media dollars, eschewing attempts to have live games on digital screens -- and perhaps further expansion.

For a long time, the NFL has been looking to find a way to be in our consciousness all year round. Well, say some analysts, with such incidents as the Rice elevator incident, the 24/7 NFL “reality TV” show is already here.

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