The NFL -- It's not just for Sundays anymore
IN ONE OF the niftiest cultural sleights of hand ever, the NFL has managed to turn 16 Sundays of games into a 52-week opus. With the recent announcement that the NFL draft will shift from April to May,* this means the league has locked up every month of the year with some type of football activity.
(*By moving back the "player selection meeting" two weeks, the Bureau of the Census estimates the NFL will create an additional 232,500 mock drafts annually. To accommodate the extra tonnage, the Department of Health and Human Services has recommended adding an extra day to the month of April. Hello, April 31st!)
Here's the NFL calendar these days - and we're going to present it in old-fashioned July 1 to June 30 fiscal-year style, because the NFL is as fiscal as anybody around:
July: Training camp. The league hasn't figured out how to fully monetize this yet.
August: Preseason. A dinosaur, lacking enough revenue flow.
September to December: Regular season. Cash cow. Cha-ching!
January: Playoffs. A bigger cash cow - I mean, everywhere you look, really large cows are running to the bank.
February: Super Bowl and the scouting combine. Biggest Cash Cow Ever, plus the other thing.
March-April: Free agency. Where hedge fund managers with helmets seek additional fortune.
May: The draft. When the league tells the newest members of its well-heeled workforce where they will punch in and punch out; this is probably illegal, but, what the heck, it's a darn good paycheck.
June: OTAs. Short for Organized Team Activities; actually, this might be where everyone divvies up the cash.
This is all you need to know about the NFL's grip on our sporting psyche:
The scouting combine - a series of drills that college seniors go through in preparation for the NFL draft - is now a weeklong event televised live.
(Granted, the three-cone drill arguably is more entertaining than "Two and a Half Men," and, to be honest, Couch Slouch has utilized a home version of the three-cone drill from time to time to scout prospective wives.)
In Woody Allen's 1977 movie "Annie Hall," the character Alvy Singer worried that the universe is expanding. "The universe is everything," he said, "and if it's expanding, someday it will break apart and that will be the end of everything." I'll leave that for scientists to debate, but it's clear that the NFL is expanding at a rate faster than the universe.
Once a Sunday-only exercise, the NFL now plays on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays virtually every week.
The NFL is following the grocery store model: They are open more hours than, say, a century ago because they make more money that way. The NFL has decided that more product creates more profit, so, like the supermarket, it keeps its doors open longer.
This not only means more games each week, but more weeks with games. Yes, the regular season or the postseason will upsize. I'm betting on both - eventually an 18-game regular season (up from 16) and 16-team playoffs (up from 12).
As Deep Throat once told me at a parking meter near the ESPN Zone in downtown Washington, "Follow the money."
From a competitive standpoint, the current 12-team playoff system makes sense - it keeps the postseason fairly exclusionary (as opposed to the NBA and the NHL, where half of the teams qualify), and it grants a first-round bye to the best teams, who have earned it.
But from a marketing and financial standpoint, an expanded postseason makes more sense. First of all, the postseason always produces higher ratings. Second of all, when you give the top teams a bye, you are removing your marquee attractions from view; why would you take your biggest draws away from the biggest stage?
So get used to it, America: Starbucks may be on every corner, but the NFL wants to be in every nook and cranny - and every home - year-round. Heck, if the NFL could, it would add a 13th month to the calendar.
Ask the Slouch
Q. What is your daily training regimen to get ready for your yearly trek to Las Vegas for the Bowling, Blackjack and World Series of Poker Triathlon? (Steve Hintyesz; Spokane, Wash.)
A. I sleep in until 11 or 11:15 a.m., then get into a solid routine of eating badly and not exercising.
Q. Could the Yankees retire Alex Rodriguez's uniform number while he is still wearing it? (Gary Mitrisin; South Euclid, Ohio)
A. There's also talk, as a fan promotion, of running A-Rod up the flagpole at Yankee Stadium.
Q. With Southwest being the official airline of the Orioles, do the players board the plane on A, B and C lines? (Scott Klein; Columbia, Md.)
A. They actually do board in A, B and C groups, then Jim Johnson.
Q. Do NBA executives and the Kardashian family exchange scouting reports before the NBA draft? (J.B. Koch; Waukesha, Wis.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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