The Business of Sports

After Big Finish, NFL Faces Off-Season Concerns


The National Football League just wrapped a banner Super Bowl that exceeded expectations on all levels—a thrilling game decided only seconds before the gun, a record 111.3 million domestic viewers, and Twitter coverage that likewise broke records, peaking at game’s end with 12,223 tweets per second.

In the wake of a year that saw a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement between NFL owners and the NFL Players Association and multibillion dollar deals forged with TV partners, how can the red-hot NFL’s success story get any rosier? Yet it’s not time to relax.

While players can enjoy a few months off, the NFL doesn’t have an off-season. The NFL Combine later this month has itself become a spectator sport. April’s draft is must-see TV. With season-kickoff activities adding spectacle, the league is now a year-round pastime. A handful of issues will help determine the NFL’s continued rise: health, welfare, and human services.

Health

Player concussions and ongoing discussions with the players union about a valid test for human growth hormone (HGH) use as a performance enhancing drug are the health department topics on the table. Both were covered by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in Indianapolis during his annual state of the league press conference on Feb. 3.

Addressing claims by former players that the league fails to grasp the gravity of the concussion issue, Goodell said: “What we’ve done now is made this a significant issue, it’s a serious injury that needs to be treated seriously.” The league committed over $1 billion to retired players in the new labor agreement, Goodell added. “We are going to continue to do what we possibly can to help our retired players, the current players, and future players by making the game safer. We will do that with rules. We will do that with improving the equipment and we will do it by making sure that we pioneer research that’s going to make sure we understand all there is about brain injuries.”

Regarding HGH testing, Goodell reiterated that the league wants to implement a testing plan in the off-season, despite the NFLPA’s concerns that current blood tests are not 100 percent accurate and are thus not fair to the players. DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the players union, responded that the union “would accept a plan if it receives a population study that details how results are tabulated.”

Welfare

The NFL now has revenues of about $10 billion a year. While league expansion “has not been on our agenda,” to quote Goodell, putting a team in Los Angeles, America’s second biggest media market, continues to loom large. The city has two viable stadium sites: the downtown plan backed by AEG and the City of Industry parcel owned by developer Ed Roski.

Heightening the intrigue in L.A. is widespread speculation that if St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke wins his bid for the Los Angeles Dodgers, he will also attempt to relocate the Rams to L.A. There’s likewise speculation that if basketball’s Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley wins the Dodgers, he’d also be in a strong position to bid for an NFL franchise in Los Angeles.

Then there’s expansion online and on TV. This year’s first-time online stream attracted 2.1 million unique users, a record for a single-game sports event. The NFL has also announced that next season it will expand Thursday night game telecasts on its NFL Network to a full 16 weeks, showcasing every NFL team—good news for struggling squads with limited national exposure, bad news for millions of Time Warner Cable (TWC) customers shut out because TWC and the NFL network haven’t agreed on a carriage deal.

Human Services, Manning Style

The brothers Manning will continue to grab headlines during the NFL’s down time. Elder sibling Peyton is expected to be released by the Colts before they have to contractually pay him a $28 million bonus on March 8. Colts owner Jim Irsay has signaled that the franchise’s focus is now on a younger, healthier future, likely in the form of drafting Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Whether Peyton will retire or extend his career with the Dolphins, Redskins, Cardinals, or another team that needs leadership will be the most intriguing NFL storyline in the coming weeks.

Eli, meanwhile, is virtually assured that his second Super Bowl ring will lead to further endorsement offers, enhancing the estimated $7 million he currently earns annually from Reebok (ADS:GR), Toyota (TM), and Citizen. Marketing Evaluations, home of the Q Score, predicts that Eli’s endorsement income is now “likely to climb into the double digits,” rivaling Peyton’s $15 million and Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady’s $10 million.

Rick_horrow
Rick Horrow is a leading expert in the business of sports. As chief executive officer of Horrow Sports Ventures, he has been the architect of 103 deals worth more than $13 billion in sports and urban infrastructure projects. He is also the sports business analyst for CNN, Fox Sports, and the Fox Business Channel. Karla Swatek is vice-president of Horrow Sports Ventures and co-author of Beyond the Box Score: An Insider's Guide to the $750 Billion Business of Sports (2010). Horrow is also the host of Sportfolio, a new program on Bloomberg TV that airs Wednesday nights at 9 pm ET.

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