This is the first installment of a point-counterpoint series on sports business issues. Look for more views in the upcoming weeks.
This week, the NFL is taking a big step forward by making one of its games available only by online streaming through Yahoo! Sports. This is the first time something of this sort has been done by a major American league, which means the NFL has pulled out all the stops to market the game. Throughout stateside games last Sunday, every network advertised it.
And, oh, by the way, the game will be played in London, meaning it will have an early 9:30 AM EDT start time. The only problem: It’s being played between the Jaguars and Bills.
Why would the NFL go through all this just to match up two of its least appealing teams? The interest in a game between Jacksonville and Buffalo isn’t high enough for this to work on the first try. Because the game will be televised on CBS in local markets, the NFL must rely on national interest in these teams — which is practically nonexistent. I’m not asking that the league put all this effort into a huge game — the risk for that would be too high — but the NFL can do better than this.
Asking people to tune in at 9:30 AM (or 6:30 AM on the west coast) to watch Blake Bortles and EJ Manuel play quarterback is inviting your product to fail. There’s a reason these teams are on national television a combined total of three times aside from this game. Maybe putting a better game in this slot is too ambitious for the NFL, and maybe they’ll do so if this goes well, but can we really expect ratings to reach even average viewership? If the NFL expects its endeavor to flourish, it need to give fans something better than this.