Updating the NFL

I’m taking a break from the travel logs for a week to talk about the NFL for a minute. There’s been a lot of discussion about why NFL television ratings are down this season, and generally how the league should configure itself going forward for future seasons.

There’s little question in anyone’s mind that the league would like to add 2 regular season games to the schedule, bringing the yearly total up from 16 games to 18. With the amount that the players get beat up on a weekly basis, the players association is unsurprisingly against this, at least in principle, and they would probably also like to reduce the number of preseason games from 4 to 2 for the same reason.

Ultimately, the league knows that it’s reached saturation in the US market – the NFL is the most popular sport in the country by a long-shot and while true international expansion is fraught with challenges, certainly getting more exposure internationally would up the relatively untapped television market, helping to prop up the league’s ratings.

This may all sound like a random grouping of ideas, but bear with me – I’m getting to the point. Keeping all of this in mind, here’s my suggestions:

1. Eliminate Thursday Night Football entirely
With the beating that NFL players take on a per-game basis, it’s incredibly important that players get a full week between games to recover. In addition, teams who don’t have a full week to prepare make more mistakes. Between these two, that leads to games not being as high a quality as they can possibly be. In addition, Hall of Fame coach and broadcaster John Madden made a great point: there’s only so many teams worthy of being on so that the entire country can see them. The league has achieved some basic level of parity where an injury or two can derail an entire season (see: Dallas in 2015), making it relatively difficult to to determine who is worthy of prime time games, particularly later in the season. Finally, the scarcity of NFL games is what makes them popular. Baseball teams play 162 games a year. Basketball? 82. NFL? 16. Less games creates more demand, and makes them special. If it were me, I’d take a look at dropping Monday Night Football as well, but start here.

2. Make the Sunday NFL Ticket Universally available
Big-time fans of the sport have their favorite teams, but if you don’t live in the area where you team plays, you can’t see them unless that team is on a prime time matchup. DirecTV and some game console systems give fans the opportunity to purchase a package that includes every NFL game, every week. Eliminating DirecTV’s hold on this and making this universally available is key. Put the package on cable systems, create a channel for Roku and AppleTV, create an app for mobile phones, etc. Then drop the fee, and make it a monthly subscription. Make it available internationally as well. Pretty simple: make it easier for people to watch, and more people will watch.

3. Re-Configure the Regular Season Schedule
The NFL has 4 preseason games and 16 regular season games. The league should eliminate 2 preseason games; most starters play very limited time in the preseason anyway. That will satisfy the players. Then, the league should add 1 regular season game. This game should be an international game for everyone (see below). Then the other preseason game should be replaced with something like a rookie game before the preseason, which would be limited to players who are rookies or new to the team, or didn’t get to play a regular season game the year before or something like that. So this still gives the newbies a chance to shine. Playing these games at neutral sites could be interesting as well, such as college towns, to bring NFL football to areas that wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to see an NFL game live.

4. More International Games
Right now, when two teams play an international game, one of them has to give up a home game for that season. This is because each team gets eight home games and eight away games, which never changes. Adding the additional game per season and making them all international levels the playing field here, and allows every team to get that international exposure. The NFL can use the games to create compelling matchups insomuch as that’s possible. Plus, having a weekly international game in Europe (for example) allows a much wider portion of the world to see NFL games live, due to the time-zone changes around the world.

5. Additional Bye Week
The league gives each team one week off throughout the season to help the players recover from injuries and get healthier. Of course, it stands to reason that the better players play, the better the games are. The league currently schedules the bye weeks for teams coming back from international games to rest after the time-zone change. If every team plays internationally once, then giving teams an additional week off also makes sense. Ideally, the league would schedule one of these early in the season, then one later in the season for each team.

6. Eliminate Ties
Nothing to do with NFL ratings, but we can all agree: ties suck. Just keep playing until someone wins.

7. Eliminate Extra Points
Again, nothing to do with NFL ratings, but we can all agree: missed extra points suck. I’ve blogged about this before, but there’s an easy fix. A touchdown should be worth 7. If you choose to go for two and make it, you get eight. If you choose to go for two and miss, you get 6.