ALL IN THE GAME: NFL FIXED or LEGIT?

Admittedly, this post is a departure from what one normally encounters here. And yet, the content, when analyzed from an open minded perspective, in terms of the grand scheme, falls under much the same rubric. Professional sports represent a major industry, capturing the attention of millions of people, not only in the US, but globally.

Here, in the US, NFL broadcasts dominate a huge share of the television ratings and revenue share, with the most recent end of the season Super Bowl spectacle garnering the highest ratings of any such game ever broadcast on any major network. Before the question of what constitutes such continued immense popularity, allow one to posit a more controversial query. Are the games one witnesses played out on major television networks legitimate sporting contests, or are they merely entertainment vehicles, with predetermined outcomes? This question cannot be fully analyzed or answered, without taking a more than cursory glimpse into the economics, or what is historically referred to as ‘the bottom line’.

And, for all intents and purposes, the bottom line represents profits.

In the case of the NFL alone, television revenues exceed billions, that’s right, BILLIONS!

Logically, the one element to consider is the true nature of the economic structure of professional sports. For the sake of convenience, one shall, for now, stay with the NFL. Oddly, the NFL’s economic structure runs counter to the spirit of America’s so-called free market economy. The major two elements referred to here are anti-trust exemptions, and revenue sharing. In other words, none of the thirty-two teams represented in NFL seasonal competition are individual companies or entities. If they were, legally speaking, truly individual franchises, then the need for such contractual agreements would not exist. Rather, all  NFL teams, collectively, represent one entity, known as the National Football League. Of the estimated ten billion in profits the NFL takes in on an annual basis, over seventy percent of those are shared equally among all thirty two teams. This profit sharing pie consists of incomes from television broadcast, internet and licensing, with ticket or gate receipts being split on the basis of a 66/34 percent ratio between all franchises; the former figure is awarded the home teams, which is why home field advantage is so coveted come play-off time!

The only element of collective profits not figured into this economic equation are revenues from local advertising, sponsors, pro shop merchandising, and luxury boxes. The latter source of major revenues listed, would explain why the need for the erection of new stadiums is so constantly coveted. Taking all this into consideration, NFL teams, therefore, do not represent sports teams, they are, in fact, businesses, and profitable ones at that. While sports pundits are surely loathe to discuss these elements to any degree of in depth analysis, what is undeniable, is what drives the popularity of the product played out on the field-television ratings.

Looking closely, one will see an almost direct relationship between those teams receiving the highest annual television ratings, and those that are seeded into the play-offs, and awarded coveted ‘home field advantage’.  It is no coincidence either, that numbered among those teams rosters are some of the most popular players, those household names routinely transcending the attentions of fanatical sports enthusiasts. Does it not make sense, from a purely business perspective, for the NFL to ensure the appearance of not only the most popular teams, but to feature it’s most popular players during prime time, in order to maximize it’s profit making potential? Taking it a step further, would it not also make sense for the league to ensure the creation of accompanying ‘human interest stories’ in order to maximize fan interest, thus increasing television ratings, which in turn maximizes advertising rates for the television networks?

Can one not see, it would behoove the NFL, to steer the outcome of not only an entire season of contests, in order to ensure the economic potential of these elements are maximized, but perhaps to manipulate certain contests during the regular season, to ensure certain of the most popular teams and players are featured in play-off scenarios, over others less popular, to say nothing of maximizing the ancillary interests of the gaming industry centered in Las Vegas, Nevada? It is no great revelation to state, that foreknowledge of a sporting contests eventual outcome is a great advantage for Vegas gaming interests in setting favorable and profitable odds.

In further demonstrating this is so from a legal standpoint, the tickets fans purchase constitute a legal contractual agreement with the home franchise, to be granted entry into the stadium, and to be granted a spectator seat to witness a football contest.

Nothing, from a legal basis, is guaranteed that contest provides anything more than entertainment, nor, that the contest itself is guaranteed a legitimate outcome, only that the contest is being played out within the parameters of a certain body of rules, rules which, as any football fan will attest, are open to loosely based interpretations, almost on a weekly basis during the NFL playing season.

This is the key to understanding how the outcomes of individual games, and entire seasons, are routinely manipulated. One would do well in remembering officials employed by the NFL are designated part-time employees. Despite their almost anonymous stature, more than anyone on the field of play, the officials are potentially the greatest arbiter, the ones with the greatest power, in determining the ultimate fate of an individual contest. They may, or may not, at any crucial juncture of a contest, penalize one team over the other, thus determining the contest outcome. Since the officials are closely monitored and evaluated by league overseers, does it not make sense that they could be influenced in favoring one team over another in meting out penalties to influence the outcome of any particular game?

How many times, have fans witnessed what could be construed as questionable, or even controversial, penalties handed out by officials, calls which ultimately determined whether or not their favorite team experienced the triumph of victory, or the agony of defeat? Not to mention, how many times have NFL fans found themselves faced with stories of a particular teams penchant for flouting the rules and outright cheating?

Yes, this years Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots, come to mind.

But, would it not behoove NFL management, perhaps even the commissioner himself, to promote such stories in the way of media spin, offering a limited hang-out, in order to discourage the larger discussion of what may really happen behind the scenes in the way of such egregious manipulations?

After all, professional sports are merely entertainment, and having been in the entertainment music industry, one has honestly observed, that any publicity, whether positive or negative, constitutes ‘good’ publicity!

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