$17.6 billion NFL package no big deal to average fan

January 18, 1998|By JOHN EISENBERG

There are big headlines that grab you in the gut and big headlines that don't, and let's face it, the NFL's new TV deal just isn't a gut-grabber.

Sure, it's astounding that the networks are going to shell out $17.6 billion, and following the corporate wars is interesting enough, but really, does any of it matter to you?

Is your life going to change because Disney paid more for the Sunday night games than the Monday night games?

Are you in tears over the end of the Charlie Jones era on NBC?

Your life would have changed if NFL games weren't going to be on TV at all anymore, like "Seinfeld." That would have grabbed you in the gut.

(Actually, putting the NFL in reruns, like "Seinfeld," is a pretty good idea. You know, don't play any more new games, just broadcast old ones. What would you rather watch, Johnny U. and the Colts against Lombardi's Packers, or Vinny T. and the Ravens against Tennessee?)

The new deal also would have grabbed you if it had meant that "Monday Night Football" were moving to, say, the Playboy Channel. Let's see Paul Tagliabue give an interview on that pre-game show.

Come to think of it, with Frank Gifford on the broadcast, "MNF" has already kind of moved to the Playboy Channel, hasn't it?

Anyway, the bottom line is that a headline doesn't grab you if it doesn't affect major changes in your life, and the NFL's new TV deal is one of those dizzy corporate mega-mergers that's pretty much impossible for regular Joes to fathom.

Yes, it does mean your cable bill is going to go up, but your cable bill was going to go up anyway. What else does it do?

Yes, it does mean the networks will have to air more commercials during games, but they were going to do that anyway because they make money doing it, and, well, they tend to like to make money. (Such insight in today's column!)

Yes, it does mean the Ravens and the 29 other teams will have more money to build their squads with, but the smart teams will still spend it wisely, and the dumb teams still won't, so, like, nothing will change.

And yes, believe it or not, the new TV deal does mean the price of game tickets will rise, even though each team will get a ridiculous $73 million a year in network TV revenues. You would think that teams would give rebates to fans with that much loot coming in, but the higher revenues will lead to a higher salary cap, and, of course, owners always make someone other than themselves pay for higher player salaries. Isn't it a law?

But hey, ticket prices were going to go up anyway because, well, what else do they do?

In other words, the new TV deal isn't going to affect any changes in your life that weren't going to happen anyway.

That's not to say there won't be any changes, period.

"Monday Night Football" games supposedly are going to kick off 45 minutes earlier, which means there's a chance you'll make it past halftime before dozing off. That's a change for the better unless the Indy Colts are playing, in which case you're better off snoring as soon as possible.

Obviously, ABC finally has figured out that we're turning into a country of doddering, old geezers who need medication to stay up past 10 p.m.

Another change is that NBC is out of the pro football biz after 34 years, which mostly means that former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, who was working for NBC as a studio analyst, is free again on Sundays.


Perhaps the biggest change is that the networks are going to lose hundreds of millions of dollars on the deal, having overpaid by so much that their stockholders should immediately consider hiring counsel for the civil suit. You have to wonder if anyone noticed that NFL ratings are declining almost as fast as Asia's financial markets.

That change means that a lot of people who work at the networks probably are going to be looking for work in a few years, thanks to the dopey network execs who gave away the store. So, say a prayer of thanks this morning if you don't work at the networks.

Otherwise, it's hard to come up with a way that the new TV deal is going to make a difference in your life.

If Bud Selig and those wacky boys over at baseball had somehow landed a deal giving them $17.2 billion to play with, that would have made a difference. (God help us all.)

If Disney had demanded the hiring of a cartoon commissioner in return for its $9.2 billion investment, that would have made a difference. (Yeah, we know, the NFL already has a commissioner whose nose grows every time he says life is perfect with teams in Jacksonville and Memphis and no team in L.A. But what if Disney had wanted the real Pinocchio?)

The new deal would have grabbed you in the gut if it had DTC signaled the arrival of interactive NFL TV, including such features as Gilbert Brown, the Packers' 350-pound nose guard, coming right off the screen to fall on the nachos and wieners you'd spread out in front of the set.

But alas, none of that is going to happen. Your life is barely going to change at all because of the NFL's new TV deal.

The players, owners and agents are going to come out even farther ahead -- yee-haw -- and the officiating isn't going to improve one bit.

So, like, big deal.

Pub Date: 1/18/98

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