Eric Winston, an offensive tackle for the Bengals and president of the NFL Players Association, says the NFL is simply too popular to screw up, and that its recent success has come in spite of Goodell’s leadership, not because of it: “You could be the worst bartender at spring break, but you’d still be killing it.”
This article is recommended reading if you haven’t had a chance. It’s relevant to our discussions here, when some of us forgive Gary Bettman his foibles, his condescension to journos and the fans, his smarmy lectures, his reliance on his trusty, sole go-to nuclear option of a lockout, his treatment of the game as a commodity rather than a sacred trust, ‘because he raised league revenues’.
I’ve always contended that a trained monkey could be a league commissioner nowadays. Pro sports is in extremely high demand from media companies. While TV shows’ ratings are dropping, from the heyday of the seventies when there were only three networks, to today with the multi-channel universe and Netflix and streaming and other illegal options and PVR’s with their commercial-zapping properties, pro sports have risen in importance disproportionately. They’re a TV product that needs to be consumed immediately, since it rapidly grows stale. If you’re a true fan and want to follow along with Bruce Arthur on Twitter or the Headmaster’s Liveblog, you need to be watching as it happens, commercials and all.
These shifts are occurring in other media. Sales of movies (videos, Blu-Ray, I-Tunes, etc.) have cratered, but video games are now a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Movie genre segmentation is occurring as well. New releases are aimed at teens with 3-D frenetic action sequences to draw them to the theatre, while more sedate offerings are getting harder to finance and produce, since these can be pirated and consumed at home more easily.
So pro sports are what every network is clamouring for, and not just the traditional offerings. College football and basketball are now essentially a pro sport, a product. NASCAR, curling, poker, whatever fills air time will be snatched up.
Bud Selig, maybe the most hapless bumbler who’s ever presided over a league, retired recently and analysts had to grudgingly admit that during his watch, he presided over labour peace, and watched revenues grow from X to a number orders of magnitude greater. The proverbial rising tide is raising all boats.
So when Gary Bettman uses hockey as his personal fiefdom to settle old scores, and hands monopolies to Sportsnet and TVA in spite of their demonstrable relative incompetence, to spite CBC/Ron MacLean, and to hold off Pierre Péladeau while the Florida Panthers sitch plays itself out, production values and viewers and fans be darned, let’s not give him a pass because he got a lot of money for Ed Snyder in return.
He would have got a lot of money out of anyone. You or I and a couple of lawyers and agents to act as advisors would have gotten a lot of money. A trained monkey on roller skates wearing a tuxedo, taking a break from typing out the complete works of Shakespeare, while huffing on a cigarette and flinging his excrement at Colin Campbell, would have gotten a lot of money out of any network(s).