Why is the NFL pushing for a 17th game? For us to really understand, we first need to be honest with ourselves so I’ll start. Let The Old Man Rant.
The Little White Lie
Shhhhh I’m gonna admit something… I’m in a relationship…
Don’t worry, my wife knows.
Yep, I am, and it’s with the NFL and she’s moderately ok with it. I mean I’m seeing them alllll day Sunday every Monday and Thursday night? That’s three times a week (four times around holidays), so it’s definitely a relationship, right? But you know when you’re in a relationship and you start noticing your partner giving inconsistent stories, or even outright lying to you? Yeah, the NFL is doing that to me… to us, right now. And I’m not ok with it.
For years they’ve talked about player safety over and over again. They’ve even mandated changes to the game to “protect” players. Fun things like penalties for hitting a defenseless player making it so hard for a defensive back to decide whether or not to hit a wide receiver they’ll hesitate. Or the elimination of the crackback block adding so many issues to kick returns that it’s actually noteworthy to have one without a flag thrown. (Or is this their way of making us hate kicks so much they can get rid of them? #genius.)
My favorite though is the helmet. Remember those old school, single bar, skin-tight helmets that provided very little protection? Or better yet, the leather ones with no face mask? Ever remember seeing players leading with their heads back then? Nope, neither do I.
They truly meant well, but I argue that the helmet is now so protective that players are more comfortable leading with their helmet, basically using it as a weapon. Its become so large from padding and cushioning that it reminds me of my childhood when these things drove the sidelines. (Yeah, I’m old.)
I really do think this is a huge issue and so does the NFL.
To better understand the impact of head injuries, the NFL has set up medical services for players to monitor brain health of active and former players. The NFL has now gone a step further by coordinating with 30 players that agreed to donate their brains to be studied for CTE after their death. One of these studies sampled 266 deceased former players and found the risk of developing CTE increased by 30% per year played. Let me type that again, CTE risk increases 30% per year played! If that wasn’t enough, it also showed that for each 2.6 additional years played, (that’s about 42 more games for a player) the odds of developing CTE doubled… DOUBLED!
Though I’ve had some fun along the way with all these changes and “advancements”, it’s now obvious the NFL has acknowledged there is an issue and have taken multiple steps over a number of years to improve things, ultimately making the game safer for players.
The Real Reason Why the NFL is Pushing For a 17th Game
So, after all those changes, after all that work, after all that focus on player safety, after all those network stories, after all those interviews with players, coaches, owners, the head of the players union, and even the commissioner himself, I ask you, why is the NFL pushing for a 17th game? Oh yeah, and since the new CBA has passed, why is the players union apparently ok with it too?
Because it’s all about the Benjamins, or the Franklins, or even the McKinleys, or the Clevelands (try finding those last two), so we have to follow the money. On a side note, so they canceled the $500 and $1,000 bills, McKinley is from Ohio. And Cleveland, well, its Cleveland. What’s this Ohio hate?
The NFL brings in about $16,000,000,000, yes that’s billion, in league revenue. About 58 percent of that comes from “national” revenue: TV deals, merchandising and licensing and the rest comes from “local” revenue: ticket sales, concessions, and corporate sponsors. And those are the current numbers. The new CBA will bring the opportunity for the league to negotiate new TV deals. Think the number one sport that’s crushing every measurable popularity number will get new deals from the networks that are less than they are now? Ah, no! They’ll be larger, much larger. But these are the numbers we know, so let’s dig in just a bit.
The top three teams in revenue are the Cowboys (about $950 million), followed by the Patriots and the Giants (both around $600 million). Interestingly, the Texans are number four on the list. That #!?@&*! you just heard was Deshaun Watson yelling: that can’t buy some damn o-line help?!? But I digress. The average team brings in around $440 million, including teams like the Dolphins, Saints, Seahawks. Steelers, and Ravens. Finally, the bottom three teams bring in about $360 million and the list isn’t shocking, Bengals, Chargers, and Raiders, although I’m sure those new stadiums in LA and Vegas will adjust those numbers quite well.
National revenue is the same for each team as they each get an equal share of the TV, merchandising, and licensing deals, which accounts for about $255 million for each team. So, the difference-maker for each team is the local money; that is why those stadium deals are so important!
To really understand what all the Benjamins mean, we need to look at the “average” team. The average NFL team (Dolphins, Saints, Seahawks, Steelers, Ravens) brings in $255 million from the National revenue or $15.9 million per game. Their local revenue brings them about $185 million or $11.5 million per game. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s about $27.5 million per team in revenue each game.
From an expense standpoint, we need to look at two main factors. First and obviously is the cost of players. The salary cap is about $200 million, which is about $12.5 million per game for each team. The second major factor is operating expenses. You know, jerseys, tape, care and upkeep of the facilities, etc. Each NFL team (except the Packers) are privately owned. That means they don’t need to publicly report numbers, so it’s hard to be exact. Having said that, there is enough information available to cobble together a fairly educated guess that operating expenses per team on average is around $8.5 -$9 million per game.
The Bottom Line?
Why am I trying to show all these numbers you ask? It’s because of that one extra game and what that one additional game really means. So why is the NFL is pushing for a 17th game? Let’s summarize.
First of all, the average operating income for an NFL team is approximately $102 million per season or about $6.4 million per game. Second, the salary cap is about $200 million a year or $12.5 million per game. That’s about $235 thousand per player on a 53-man roster, but it’s a misleading number. Sure, top-level talent gets big numbers each game, but in reality, the median NFL salary is $860 thousand or about $54 thousand per game.
One more note. The average NFL career is about four years. Adding an extra game each year means the average player will get an additional $210 thousand from this extra game.
For the league, it’s an easy choice. Add an extra game and with a quick “yes” vote, you print yourself an extra $6 – $7 million a year to put in your pocket.
For the player, you would think it’s a tougher decision. Is an extra $210 thousand worth doubling your risk of CTE? The only way to answer that is by looking at the CBA vote. The fact is 1,019 voted yes and 959 voted no to the new agreement that directly opens the door for a 17th game. So the lives, specifically the after football lives, of almost 2,000 players were decided by 60 votes. 60 players, or about 2 per team, decided the fate of players and CTE. I can only translate that into the fact that the $210 thousand was a huge number for those 60 players. To put that into perspective, the guy that just got signed off the practice squad or the fourth string guard were the key votes, not the Russell Wilson’s or the Allen Robinson’s.
I can only speak for myself; I always do better with the truth. While it’s nice to see player safety standards getting better, (and they should), let’s not kid ourselves, it’s really about $$$. I’d personally respond better to a more balanced message from the league. So let’s agree to do at least two things.
First, continue focusing on player safety, but also focus on getting more fans involved and watching, which will drive growth. It’s that growth that will drive more and more money to the owners and players.
Second, let’s make some sensible changes to some rules, like the kickoff (love the XFL approach). Or god forbid, dare I say it, ok, I’ll whisper it… gambling. There, I said it. Yeah, gambling, even in seat, in-game gambling. Hey NFL, stop dragging your feet or even trying to ignore it. Define some fun ways of doing it and get it done! That’s the type of balanced messaging I can support and respect and hope we all get at some point.
It will be years before we really understand the magnitude of this drive to 17 games and what it truly means to individual players’ lives. As we learn, let’s do it together, with transparency and honesty. Let’s also hope all the players get electronic deposit because, given the facts of CTE, I’m afraid some of them may not be able to sign their own names.