The NFL is heading into it’s final week, and we already know that the two teams that playing in last year’s Super Bowl will not be returning. With the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers both eliminated from the playoffs, a new champion will be crowned, and the NFL has plenty of exciting options. Will it be the up-and-coming Dallas Cowboys, led by a pair of rookies blowing records out of the water? Will it be the Oakland Raiders, whom success has avoided in the past decade and a half? Will it be the Pittsburgh Steelers or Green Bay Packers, teams with championship pedigree looking to add to their already proud trophy case?
Regardless of the answer, the NFL has plenty of intrigue. And it doesn’t matter, because nobody is watching.
TV ratings for the NFL are at a low, unseen in recent years. Fewer and fewer fans are watching, buying merchandise, and identifying the NFL as the destination for their attention and their dollars. Many critics have tried to identify the reason for the slow demise of the NFL. Some blame deflate-gate, and the punishment of Tom Brady. Some blame Colin Kaepernick, claiming the NFL has endangered ideas of patriotism. Others complain of the punishments for celebrations, that the fun of the game is being stripped before our eyes.
In any case, the NFL must do something to keep up with their fans. They have to be willing to listen, to pay attention to where the sports world is going, and how they can keep up. If they continue to believe that they know what is best for the sport, belligerently ignoring what the fans and players are asking for, you are going to see a massive dismissal of the sport as a whole.
Baseball just saw two fan bases stimulate the entire sport with their contest in the World Series. Hockey has been using social media to brilliantly connect with fans and garner attention in America and beyond. Basketball is constantly investigating ways to maintain their hold on the audience, including discussions of advertising on jerseys. In all cases, the sports world is looking around and trying to figure out where they belong in the future, and the NFL has demonstrated a critical inability to have those conversations.
Football is a tough sell as it is. The health risks for young people have always been staggering, and something that should make parents very uncomfortable. If the NFL doesn’t find ways to not only improve the health but also ensure that fans are still paying attention, this could be the beginning of the end for football as we know it in America.