By David Whitley, Orlando Sentinel
ORLANDO, Fla. — Are you ready for some football?
Five nights a week?
That’s where the National Football League might be headed, and Mark Cuban is concerned. On the eve of the NFL meetings in Orlando, the Dallas Mavericks’ owner warned that the NFL is “10 years away from an implosion.”
The first step was CBS getting a deal for Thursday night games. That might tempt owners to book games two or three more nights a week beyond what we already get. Eventually, our eyes will glaze over and we’ll become a nation of WNBA fans.
“I’m just telling you, pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered,” Cuban said Sunday, according to ESPNDallas.com. “When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way.”
Cuban’s a brilliant businessman, but he’s wrong about this particular pig. NBC could televise Bill Belichick’s next colonoscopy and it would get better ratings than “The Voice.” The question isn’t whether the NFL could successfully expand the schedule. The question is whether it should.
Millions of people already build their entire Sundays around football. They also show up bleary-eyed to work Tuesday after watching Jon Gruden until 1 a.m.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but America might grind to complete halt if the NFL had games four or five nights a week.
“We’ve got a great fan base and a great product,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said Tuesday. “And Commissioner Goodell has done a great job building our brand.”
“It’s a beast,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.
And it’s getting beastlier. As the TV market fragments, live sports have become one of the few sure things. Last year, 34 of the 35 top-rated shows after Labor Day were NFL games. The interloper was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade at No. 22.
Twenty-two games were watched by at least 25 million people. That’s 14 more games than the previous season. Games on CBS, NBC and FOX averaged 20.2 million viewers, which was 190 percent higher than the average prime-time viewership.
All that in a year when the NFL took a P.R. beating over concussions and bullying. Is there any doubt the people are ready for more football?
“The thing I’m seeing now is it’s not just the boys watching the games,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “When you look around, you see all the moms and kids. It’s not just a guy thing. It’s an everybody thing.”
Games should now begin with a Surgeon’s General’s warning:
“This product is addictive and may lead to divorce, lack of sleep, poor job performance and forgetting your kids’ names. Even worse, you might join a fantasy league and bore people to death discussing which wide receiver to start.”
There is a saturation point for some. It’s doubtful 25 million people would watch Oakland play Buffalo on a Tuesday night. But the ratings would still be more than good enough to justify the broadcast.
For all the talk about “greedy owners,” there’s no shame in trying to maximize profits. That’s what businesses do. It’s just that the NFL is a unique business.
Goodell is like Walter White, the chemistry and criminal genius in “Breaking Bad.” He made the world’s best methamphetamine, and there was no saturation point for addicts.
The NFL is like blue meth. I’m all for people using the football version, just not to where it takes over their lives and they turn into total gridiron zombies. Seriously, wouldn’t you rather spend a couple of nights playing with your kids, boning up on world events or reading a good book?
Don’t answer that.
“The NFL is so strong,” Ryan said, “it seems the only reason you’re trying to put games on every night is that’s what the fans want.”
If pro football were on TV almost every night of the week, Cuban shouldn’t be worried about the NFL.
In 10 years, it’s the country that might implode.
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar