When do sports start again? Watch the NFL
The rubber hits the road with football
I agree with President Donald Trump on something.
“I’m tired of watching baseball games that are 14 years old,” No. 45 said earlier this week.
You should probably mark down the date and time you read this because, well, it doesn’t happen often. But in the spirit of general happy-happy, joy-joy that should be felt during this COVID-19 pandemic, yes, I feel The Donald’s pain.
The same day the President uttered his disdain for sports replays, ESPN re-aired Game 1 of the 1988 World Series with the Dodgers’ Kirk Gibson staggering off the bench to walk it off against Dennis Eckersley and the Oakland A’s.
Coincidence? We think not. Good job, Mr. President. (Again, mark the date and time.)
Left or right, whether you wear a red hat or would vote for a person in a coma over the incumbent in November’s general election, most Americans can actually agree that we really want our sports back.
To that end, we have some good news. ESPN will start to air “The Last Dance,” its Michael Jordan documentary series starting on Sunday at 7 p.m. Mountain time. There will be two episodes each Sunday through May 17. Having watched an unhealthy amount of the network’s “30 for 30” series, it should be superb.
We also have the NFL Draft this week Thursday through Saturday. As much as the draft is a hype machine for the league, this year’s edition should take the cake. So starved are we for anything sporty, we might actually be excited to see Mel Kiper Jr. on our screens. (Since the draft will be held virtually, Kiper will be hermetically sealed which might be a good lesson we can take out of COVID-19.)
And while we will overanalyze this draft — locally, the Broncos will either have clinched a Super Bowl berth or blown it completely — it brings up the question, “What will the NFL do?”
The Goliath of American sports has made only a few concessions to COVID-19, only moving the draft from Las Vegas to the Internet and pushing back its schedule release for the 2020 season.
Part of that is the luck of the calendar. Whereas the NBA and NHL seasons were in the stretch drive and baseball was in spring training, the NFL had finished the Super Bowl and its combine complete by March 1 before the virus became a part of American life. With the season opener on Sept. 10 — the Chiefs hosting an opponent to be determined — the NFL has the luxury of time, while other sports do not.
On March 11, the NBA showed its muscle in the sporting world. With NCAA conference tournaments in full swing, March Madness approaching and the sports world in full swing, Utah’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. The Jazz’s game at Oklahoma City that night was canceled and the dominoes started to fall.
The NBA shut down immediately and the NHL, Major League Baseball and the NCAA followed within 48 hours. While the financial interests of the aforementioned organizations are substantial, none match the monetary might of the NFL.
The NBA does about $8 billion in revenue annually, while MLB is about $9 billion. The NFL is somewhere between $15-16 billion per year. Translation: The NFL calls the shots in American sports.
If the NFL shuts down its 2020 season, sports, not too mention general life, in America are in serious trouble. There will be no high school sports for the 2020-21 school year and no college football. The NBA and NHL will not have resumed their 2019-20 campaigns nor be considering starting new seasons. Baseball won’t be playing either.
College programs will be looking at slashing non-revenue sports (i.e. teams not called football and men’s basketball). It’s not hard to envision Minor League Baseball teams going under and, perhaps, some pro sports teams treading water.
Before we all jump into the Eagle River, that’s the worst-case scenario. Remember the $15-16-billion figure. The NFL ain’t going to give up that money without looking at every possible scenario.
What’s more, if the NFL leads the way back to “normal” by playing, it’s not hard to imagine revenue exploding. People are so starved for sports they’d want to watch the Cincinnati Bengals take on the Miami Dolphins. (Yes, that is an actual game this fall.)
Were television ratings inevitably to rise with the return of the NFL, it would also help the league renegotiate its broadcasting rights with CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN, which expire in 2022. Even before we had heard of the coronavirus, the NFL was planning to sit down this year with the networks to talk over new deals.
So using the Follow the Money Theory of Sports, the NFL is going to do anything and everything possible to have a season this fall.
And, regardless of our politics, we’re all rooting for the NFL’s success.
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