By now you’ve heard the story about Deflategate. The New England Patriots played with underinflated footballs that did not meet league requirements. Eleven of 12 footballs were tested at halftime (and supposedly replaced) — this report by Chris Mortensen was proven to be false — during the Patriots 45-7 AFC Championship victory over the Indianapolis Colts. USA Today, ESPN, NBC, CNN, ABC, Fox, everybody has given it major news coverage. Every media outlet large and small has come out with articles on the subject, and that is why the only winner in this entire fiasco is the media.
The Patriots surely aren’t winners. Business-wise it just makes the organization look worse. People still focus on Spygate, and that was 2007 (even after the Patriots maintained the best record of any NFL team since 2007). Robert Kraft is influential in the business circles of the NFL. His relationship with CBS is well-known, as well is his role as chairman of the NFL’s broadcast committee. This fiasco doesn’t help him or his team. Stacey James and the Patriots PR team can’t be happy this is happening before one of the biggest games in franchise history.
The NFL probably isn’t too psyched either. Sure, under-inflated footballs pales in comparison to the Ray Rice domestic violence mishandling (that’s an understatement). But the integrity of the game is important. Fans already make snide comments about the NFL wanting specific teams to win (Cowboy vs. Lions on wild-card weekend). If teams are purposely circumventing the rules for tangible benefits, the NFL can’t let that happen. This is just another headache in a multiple migraine season for Roger Goodell and the NFL.
The media is the big winner. First, this is a dead news week. Normally sports media will struggle for storylines until days before the Super Bowl. Now broadcast news stations are creating coverage. Tom Brady and the Patriots unknowingly gave national sports media, local news and talk radio its main storyline for the week.
Deflategate also allows for people to make increasingly aggressive comments in our “hot take” society of sports. “Belichick should be suspended for the Super Bowl;” “Belichick should be suspended for up to eight games;” “The Patriots should give up their spot in the Super Bowl to the Colts” are all examples of this trend. Some of these articles never take into account whether Belichick had anything to do with what footballs Tom Brady wants to throw. Nor do they take into account that balls were switched out at halftime and after that the Patriots outscored the Colts 28-0. It is just the need to make an extreme argument for coverage and clicks. Deadspin gathered some of the best “hot takes” over the past few days.
This all for something (tampering with footballs) that Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson supposedly paid $7,500 for prior to his Super Bowl appearance, something Rich Gannon and Boomer Esiason said was being overblown, something Aaron Rodgers admitted to in the regular season, something Matt Leinart said most QBs do anyway.
The truth is, in our black and white media (and this can be be seen with Fox News, MSNBC and other areas of media as well), the only way to get noticed, to get eyeballs, or to get page views is to say something on the fringe. No one can have a logical middle-of-the-road discussion because that doesn’t generate viewership and revenue. Something such as Deflategate, a confluence of cheating, a coach disliked by the media, a team generally disliked around the country and the Super Bowl makes circus media coverage easy. It also generates the eyeballs needed to generate revenue.
If CNN, NBC, and Fox News are covering a sports issue, it is probably a big deal. It also helps that this is the New England Patriots, a team most of the country despises. But the NFL could probably do without the distraction. This story isn’t going away, either. Every sports media outlet covering the event will milk it as long as it is generating an audience, for the same reasons we’ve been forced at times to sit through endless Favre, Tebow and Johnny Football commentary. The Fourth Estate is taking a moral stand, and is the only business benefiting from the story.
Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.