So why has Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban suddenly decided to throw stones at the NFL?
Maybe Cuban is envious of the NFL’s success, which has left all other major American pro sports in the dust. Or maybe he’s offering free advice to the NFL, in the hopes that the owners will avoid the slaughtering of the hog.
Maybe Cuban knows the NFL won’t abandon its current course, and that in 10 years Cuban inevitably will be proven right.
Or maybe he simply just wants to quench his insatiable smedium T-shirt thirst for attention.
For now, I’m leaning toward the latter option. Cuban has a well-documented “look at me” streak, and his comments from Sunday followed by a 1,585-word Facebook post on Monday seem to be nothing more than a way to photobomb the NFL’s unparalleled and ever-growing success.
The initial comments likely sprang in part from frustration regarding the chasm between the NBA and the NFL. The elaboration likely came from the surge of notoriety that his initial comments triggered.
Regardless, if he’s right about the inevitable implosion of the NFL, he’d be better off standing back and letting it happen. By making an elaborate case for the eventual failure of the NFL, Cuban has given the billionaires who didn’t earn that money by being stupid further incentive to continue to search for ways to strengthen the already indelible bond with millions of football fans.
Cuban’s basic arguments are predictable. He says parents won’t want their kids to play football. As if that will choke off the supply of elite athletes who eventually will become old enough to tell mom and dad that they’re going to do what they want to do — and that what they want to do is play football.
Cuban also believes player behavior will alienate fans. But if that hasn’t happened yet, it never will. Instead, the periodic misadventures of players, coaches, and (as of late week) an owner serves to enhance the ultimate reality show that is the NFL. Does the league like having those things happen? No. Does it ultimately hurt the product in any way? Absolutely not.
Off-field incidents add intrigue, and intrigue enhances interest. Interest translates to higher and higher TV ratings.
Cuban likewise believes that the league eventually will excessively saturate the weekly TV calendar, given the attempt to make Thursday night the latest major NFL destination. But he ignores the fact that further expansion will be difficult, given the requirement that the NFL avoid Fridays and Saturdays from early September through early December as part of the federal broadcast antitrust exemption. That leaves Tuesdays and Wednesdays, expansion to which is impractical.
Even so, many fans would actually prefer to have the wekly cluster of games spread throughout the week. The true saturation occurs at 1:00 p.m. ET every Sunday, when fans struggle to keep up with too many games all at the same time. And so the Red Zone concept has helped turn an otherwise irritating experience into one of the league’s newest sources of fan addiction.
Some hogs simply never get slaughtered; football has become deeply ingrained in the American experience. Nothing else can bring a live TV audience together by the multiple millions. And pro football has shown that it transcends the periodic shifts in tastes and trends. For more than 55 years since the NFL title game between the Colts and Giants demonstrated the power of televised professional football, the league has grown and grown and grown and grown.
While there’s a limit to the growth of the sport in the United States, it’s unlikely to reverse itself any time soon. And so the NFL will continue to focus on the far bigger challenge of growing the sport in other countries.