The NFL, under the stewardship of its $200 million-man Roger Goodell, is in such bad shape that it’s on the verge of blowing its one trump card: a virtual monopoly on professional football in the United States.
Last week that showman of the sports community, Vince McMahon, sold $100 million of his WWE stock to be used, as many speculate, as a down payment on his bid to revive his dream of an alternate professional football league, along the lines of the failed XFL that he launched in 2001. McMahon himself has said that his $100 million investment into Alpha Entertainment Company is “to explore investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscapes, including professional football.”
The timing appears right to go after the once mighty juggernaut known as the NFL. After all, the NFL is in the midst of a crisis that is self-made and has infuriated its fan base by allowing, and at times supporting, player protests during the national anthem prior to its games. As a result, the last two seasons have seen a precipitous drop in TV ratings and game attendance. Things have gotten so bad, the Baltimore Ravens, who were once sure bets to sell out every game, sent a letter to season ticket holders last week acknowledging the toll the players’ radicalism have taken on attendance, telling them: “We know that hurt some of you. Others saw it differently and welcomed the dialogue that followed. Others bluntly told us to keep statements and protests out of the game. There are some of you who have stayed away from our games.”
But there is more wrong with the NFL than just player protests. The issue of CTEs and player safety is a long-term issue that the NFL has no solution for. And while not making the headlines as much as player protests and head injuries is the grim fact that in the last few years there has been a steep drop in the number of youths who now play football. The next generation of football fans will be smaller than the current.
Despite all that, it won’t be easy for a new football league to get off the ground. The NFL, thanks to its current lease agreements, has all the premier football stadiums in America locked up. And despite its ratings drop, the networks still have billions invested in NFL contracts, and it is highly unlikely they would sign television deals with a new football league and, in essence, compete against themselves. And of course, the NFL has contracts with all the best talent and millions of dollars of cash on hand to fight any new upstarts.
But what Vince McMahon does have going for him is that he will be going up against Roger Goodell and the rest of the clueless generals who run the NFL. At no time in modern American sports history have we seen a major sports league run by people so uncaring to their customers wants and more arrogant in their actions than the modern NFL. Right now, the NFL has many holes in its dam, and Vince McMahon is just one more. What the NFL needs is leadership that can plug up these holes while not self-inflicting any new ones.
Competition is a great thing. It forces the suppliers of goods and services to be more cost conscious and more sensitive to its customers’ needs. One can hope that even if the new football league fails to launch or flops, it will be enough to wake up the NFL to understand that the earth is moving under its feet and if it wants to be around tomorrow it must improve its management strategy today.
My guess is Vince McMahon’s new venture, just like his old venture in professional football, will fail. Despite this, my hope is he takes his new football venture public and sells shares of stock in Alpha Entertainment Company at a price point where middle America can afford to invest. If so, Vince McMahon might just find himself pleasantly surprised at all the new capital he will have on hand to take on the NFL from small dollar investors from around the country.
Even if, in the end, a new football league proves to be a losing business proposition, many will be happy to invest just to jolt the status quo.
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