8 Reasons Why the Air is Coming Out of Football

953686508The game of football has sprung a leak. It’s a slow leak, but we have entered a definite period of decline for the sport, on all levels from Pee Wee to professional.

Football remains America’s favorite sport, beloved by many, but its issues, along with many self-inflicted wounds, are leading to its erosion. Since I live in the Greater Philadelphia area where the loyal faithful are still celebrating their Super Bowl win, it is not as obvious to all. But it’s real. The local passion for the Eagles does not negate the fact that even the mighty NFL is losing its power.

There is a barrage of issues at all levels:

1. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)

CTE is defined as follows: A progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma (often athletes), including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms.

Think that CTE doesn’t matter? The players know what they are getting into, you say. Not really.  The players years ago didn’t. And this is a real issue at every age of participant. Concussion protocols might be a small step forward, but not a solution. The truth is that there may not be a solution.

2. Moms

Many mothers (and some dads) don’t want their kids playing football. They read the CTE articles. They see the latest articles about former stars dying young. There is a dramatic decline for football participation among pre-teens and teens.

3. Fewer teams at high school level

As a function of #1 and #2, the number of teams are declining. Just last week Highland Park, NJ in Middlesex County NJ, which had been a football powerhouse years ago, announced that it is forfeiting the balance of their games. Why? Not enough players

4. The kneeling/Anthem issue

This has become a mega issue and I respected Colin Kaepernick and his right to respectfully protest racial injustice. But Colin Kaepernick was not the first pro athlete to use the anthem as a means of protest. Remember major league baseball player Carlos Delgado who remained in the dugout in 2002 while God Bless America was played?

The NFL handled the issue badly and it would have dissipated, but our President seized upon it (see #5) and inflamed it.

5. Our President

Long before he was a politician, Donald Trump was an owner of the NY Generals in the now defunct USFL. But he was really an NFL owner wanna be, and he was rebuffed in his attempts to own an NFL franchise. He tried twice–with the old Baltimore Colts and later the Buffalo Bills. The NFL owners didn’t want him in their club (and I don’t blame them).

So fast forward to today, he grabbed onto the Kaepernick/kneeling issue as “unpatriotic” and “disrespecting the flag” to try to slam the NFL and drive a wedge between players and fans. Lame, but he has been successful in doing so.

And the NFL is hardly blameless in their sub-rosa blackball of Kaepernick (who is better than virtually every back-up QB and 5-10 starters too, yet can’t get a job). NFL mishandled this issue and continues to do so.

6. Nike

As a corollary to #5, the latest thorn in the side of the NFL is the new Nike ad which includes Colin Kaepernick. I actually think it’s a really well done piece of communications that connects with its largely millennial target audience. “Shoe burning” aside, Nike online sales have improved dramatically in the last few days. But the campaign is a kick in the groin to the NFL.

7. Out of control coaches at all levels

Coaches which abuse players and put their lives in jeopardy is not a new issue. How many high school and college players need to die of dehydration?  This is issue not new, but the light is far brighter on the issue than ever before. The latest was the death of a University of Maryland player earlier this year. Universities (and high schools) are not blameless when tragedies strike.

8. Declining NFL viewership

This one is real, perhaps at least partially self-inflicted. I felt Thursday night football was a bad idea. To me it’s a classic case of “too much chocolate cake”. I love chocolate cake, but at some point I can eat only so much.In any event declining ratings are real for the NFL (and TV in general). Thursday night’s 13.4 household rating for the Eagles-Falcons kick off was very weak and is part of an overall trend for the last several years.

One could claim that the overall decline of big program TV viewing is far bigger than the NFL (it is) and sports and the NFL in particular enjoys more group viewing and bar viewing than other programming. But the numbers don’t lie. There are fewer eyeballs watching.

So what’s the future? Continued passion, yet continued decline? Yes. Popularity has crested and will continue to erode. Furthermore, there’s BIG business issue facing the NFL in 2020 with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to be agreed to and a “lockout” anticipated.

The NFLPA (NFL Players Association) will use the success of the league, the increased risk of injury and the BIG money owners make as a tool to create a more favorable financial structure. While no one cries for the millionaire players, no one really cries for billionaire owners.

There will be even more issues ahead for football and further erosion of the sport. Count on it.

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