The league has never said anything publicly about HBO’s Ballers, and that approach isn’t changing — even as one of the show’s executive producers throws a hook with a large worm on it into the pond.
On Friday, Mark Wahlberg told ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike that Commissioner Roger Goodell, along with “various owners,” directly tried to put the kibosh on the show.
“You can’t do this,” Goodell told Wahlberg, according to Wahlberg, who claims that he persuaded the league that the show was a “good thing” because “hopefully you get the word out there with the crazy stuff and the financial side of it, we’ll hopefully get these guys to realize they’ve got to be more careful with what they do with their money.”
Although a league source with knowledge of the situation told PFT under a guarantee of anonymity that Goodell made no such call, the league office officially declined comment.
On most matters of this nature, where the answer is black or white with little or no gray, the league would issue a denial if, as it appears, denial is the league’s position. But the NFL seems to be committed to giving Ballers the Concussion treatment: Ignore it and wait for it to go away.
A year ago, the league had nothing to say publicly about the brazen decision of Ballers to use actual NFL team names and logos. In the past, fictional football shows (like Playmakers) and movies (like Any Given Sunday) felt compelled to avoid potentially infringing on NFL trademarks without permission. The league, however, said and did nothing when HBO called the longstanding bluff.
Then there’s the separate relationship between the NFL and HBO, which televises Hard Knocks. After one season of Playmakers, former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue squeezed ESPN, a broadcast partner, into killing an otherwise popular show. The NFL could, if it wanted, huff and puff about the decision of HBO to proceed with the show, coupled with a not-so-veiled suggestion that Hard Knocks will eventually end up elsewhere.
None of that’s happening, apparently because the league decided from the outset that any public reaction will serve only to create greater buzz and publicity for the show. If Ballers continues to thrive, with a second season that debuts tonight becoming a third and a fourth and so on, it will be too late for the league to say or do anything about it.
It arguably already is.