Mark Cuban has never been one that is shy on voicing his opinions but lately he has been especially vociferous on subjects as diverse as the NBA’s age requirement, his opinion on an expanding global market for the NBA, and the state of officiating in the league. Now he has chosen to weigh in on the condition of the NFL. Apparently the current playoff race that his Mavericks are in isn’t enough to hold his attention. Speaking on a variety of topics his strong remarks on the NFL’s future caught my attention. Cuban believes that the NFL is “10 years away from an implosion,” a pretty bold and mystifying statement considering the NFL shows no signs of diminishing in popularity despite several significant rules changes and the controversy over concussions coupled with mounting evidence that there is an increased likelihood of brain injury from playing football at a high level for a prolonged period of time. Could Cuban possibly be onto something with his prediction and what impact would it have on the NBA?
Cuban’s choice of metaphor notwithstanding (Cuban compared the NFL to hogs getting slaughtered as they grow increasingly fat) his point is clear: the NFL is growing too greedy with its attempts to continually expand every facet of its business to generate even more revenue for its already deep coffers, and could soon experience a backlash. The NFL recently reached an agreement with CBS to televise eight of its Thursday night games (previously shown on the NFL Network) as well as announcing that it will also offer a Saturday night package late in the season. Cuban feels that the NFL is valuing TV money over the convenience of its fans who plan their weekend with the expectation that NFL games will primarily be on Sundays only. In Cuban’s estimation having football on too many nights will dilute the product and cause fans to turn away. There has been little indication that this has been the case however. The NFL has begun televising every waking minute of the combine and free agency in recent years, has pushed back the date of the draft in hopes of creating even more on-air discussion prior to the event, and has essentially eliminated any type of offseason and still fans seem to be fascinated by it all, with many tuning in to see the most mundane of all activities that have little to do with actual football – men running and jumping in shorts while scouts watch. There does not appear to be any information insignificant enough that NFL fans will not consume. Thursday night games in 2013 set an NFL Network ratings record, proving that NFL fans have shown that they will watch regardless of when the games are televised. Moreover the majority of the games are still played on Sundays. Perhaps only if the quality of the games started to decline might we hear some uproar but there has been no evidence of that trend either.
Indeed, Cuban’s comments come off more as wishful thinking than any documented occurrence. It is difficult to blame him; even as the NBA continues to grow its own revenue production each year it cannot keep pace with the NFL’s rapid rise, much less show signs of having the ability to overtake it. Certainly the NBA, in later years, might see an uptick in the quality of athletes entering the league as parents increasingly decide to prevent their children from playing football due to the inherent risks that often accompany participation in the sport. Those children who otherwise would have played football may then be more apt to choose basketball where the risk of serious injury isn’t as great. But that change will be gradual and it may take at least another full generation before the NBA begins to reap the benefit of the NFL’s intrinsic dangers. Even with all of the new research and attention being paid to the extent of the damage caused to players’ body and minds by a fundamentally violent game, the NFL’s popularity has shown no signs of waning or abating. If Cuban’s theory is that NFL fans will become frustrated and sickened by the state of the NFL and the product on the field, thus turning to the NBA as a substitute he may be long gone before that theory ever comes to fruition.
Additionally the NFL and the NBA largely tend to have two substantially different audience bases with only minimal crossover. As a young white female (young being a relative term) I follow both at a detailed and high level but I am the exception more than the rule. While the NFL attracts fans from across all races, ethnicities, ages, and genders the NBA still seems to lack the ability to appeal to a significant older white population who still equate the NBA with the out of control, drug riddled product they believed it to be in the 70s and early 80s when the league went as far as not televising playoff games live for fear of what fans would witness and because there was so little interest in doing so. Cuban would be better off seeking out solutions that serve to continue to grow the NBA through marketing and the betterment of the product on the floor (admittedly at its highest level since the last of the Bulls’ championships in the late 90s) rather than hoping for the demise of the NFL.