As to the manner in which the new HBO show Ballers portrays pro football players, the episode that premiered Sunday night, July 5, likely caused the most consternation for the NFL. In a cameo appearance, Jaguars defensive lineman Jared Odrick was engaged in illegal gambling. Likewise, a fictional NFL player was snorting cocaine. Both activities are viewed as cardinal sins by the powers-that-be at 345 Park Avenue.
But the league and the Dolphins, the team whose name and logos are featured most prominently in the show, continue to have nothing to say about the series.
The league has not yet responded to a request for comment submitted on Monday. On Tuesday, the Dolphins reiterated to PFT via text message that the team has no comment. Both the NFL and the Dolphins repeatedly have declined to say anything about the show.
Twelve years ago, the NFL said plenty about ESPN’s Playmakers, a show based on a fictional professional team. Eventually, the league pressured ESPN to cancel it.
That makes the current situation even more odd. Although HBO doesn’t televise games, the NFL and HBO are business partners for the Hard Knocks series. Thus, regardless of legalities, it’s strange that the NFL would simply shrug at the series.
Since there’s always a strategy when it comes to the NFL and its business interests, here’s an idea: Perhaps the NFL has decided not to give the show any legitimacy, in the hopes that it will go unnoticed and largely unwatched and, ultimately, unrenewed.
Unlike other HBO shows, Ballers hasn’t registered much of a blip in the national consciousness. Only 2.162 million watched the premiere, and the audience fell to 1.846 million for the second episode. Having the NFL get publicly riled up about the show could give the series the kind of boost it desperately needs.
I’m not a TV critic, and I don’t currently watch many shows. Still, I know enough to recognize when a show resonates with the audience. This one hasn’t.
It doesn’t resonate because, frankly, it’s not very good. Maybe it will improve dramatically after the four initial episodes I watched last month, but there was nothing about those four episodes that made me the even mildly interested in seeing anything more from the characters or the plot. Apparently, nothing about the first three that have aired on HBO have generated much of an audience.
Maybe that’s the league’s plan on this one. Ignore the show, hope it goes away, and save the public rancor for a future series that both infringes on the league’s trademarks and copyrights — and that actually generates ratings, buzz, and quite possibly a second season.