NFL commish Roger Goodell is a genius. Many NFL fans (especially those in Green Bay) will disagree right now, but they also forget that Goodell doesn't work for them, he works for the owners. His job is to help those owners make the most out of their product, and maximize profit. His other job is to promote the game, and draw as much attention to the sport as possible. PT Barnum, the greatest promoter of his era, was the first to be credited with the phrase "The only bad publicity is no publicity" (of course, Penn State would disagree, but even they have seen alumni donations go through the roof with their controversy), and it has been repeated in one form or another many times since. Over the last couple of years, Goodell has used the circumstances that were handed to him to absolutely crush the competition when comes to keeping his brand on the front of everyone's mind. I will tie this into MMA at the end, so humor me.
During the 2011 offseason the NFL's collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association was up, and the Owners decided to lock the players out until a new deal was reached. The NFL offseason runs from February to August, they get good publicity around the time of the Free Agency period in March, during the draft in April, and spot coverage during the mini-camps throughout the rest of the period. That Feb to August time frame should be dominated by coverage of NBA, and NHL playoffs, and the MLB with it's All-star festivities, and rapid activity leading up to the trade deadline. For anyone who watches much ESPN, or listens to sports talk radio like I do, that time frame was never void of NFL talk. Everyday there was talk across the spectrum of ESPN, and other talk radio shows about the labor negotiations between the NFL, and the NFLPA. If there was a slow day, all of a sudden info was made available from "a source close to the league offices." It was also a divisive issue among fans... it pitted Billionaire Owners against Millionaire Athletes, with many fans taking a side, and some blaming both. In the end the NFL gave everyone just enough of a scare to think that regular season games might be missed before both sides came to an agreement, but ratings were as good as ever if not better.
During the 2012 offseason NFL and sports fans have once again been treated to over-saturation coverage of the NFL, this time through the "Bounty Gate" scandal involving the New Orleans Saints. On the outside looking in, you might ask, how the NFL benefitted in any way shape or form from this? The answer is kind of hard to arrive at in a way. What we know for sure is that the New Orleans Saints had some kind of pay for performance program, but if you ask many of the NFL analysts covering the sport, they will say that almost every team has a similar program. So, why just the Saints... and not an expanded investigation into programs around the league.
1. The Saints play in one of the smallest market areas of any NFL team, (second smallest market, by one ranking, and 26th out of 32 team by another). If Goodell's plan back fired on him, and the fans shut down on the league, he isn't losing a major market team. It would have been marketing suicide to try and find the dirt to tear down the New York Giants, or New England Patriots.
2. The Saints have had success in the recent past, winning the 2009 Super Bowl, and it is not un-reasonable to think they will rebound quickly to have more success in the future. Three weeks into this season the Saints look like a 5 win team at best... but with their Head Coach back next season, and still one of the elite QBs in the league, I expect the Saints to come back from this quicker than other markets. To go on a witch hunt in cities struggling to find NFL success like Cleveland, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Miami (which already struggles to sell enough seats to beat the blackout) or Kansas City could prove a near fatal blow to those cities.
3. One of the story lines that will be crammed down our throats during next offseason is already established. "The Saints helped the city recover after Katrina, now the fans need to help the Saints recover from "Bounty Gate"."
4. Louisiana as a state produces more NFL players per capita than any other... Football runs deep down there, and it isn't a market that is going to hate football, they will just hate Roger Goodell, and he is fine with that.
MMA Lesson to be learned:
I think Dana White pulled a page from the Roger Goodell playbook when he thrashed Jon Jones following the UFC 151 cancellation... but he made a mistake. He didn't go after a small market team, he thrashed one of his major markets, the equivalent of the New England Patriots, and their lucrative Boston market. Dana's anger seemed to cease just a little about a week after the cancellation of UFC 151 was announced, which can be expected with some time and reflection. Then all of a sudden after a brief silence the anger was back and just as bad... why you ask, because Dana had to promote a Jones fight that was a complete and total mis-match on paper. Dana wanted people to talk about the Jon Jones feud, and that Jon was fighting, but not who he was fighting, and why Vitor had no chance, or business being in this fight. The problem is that, Dana may have damaged Jon moving forward, and that is not smart business. If he were to use the Roger Goodell model, he would absolutely take Jose Aldo out behind the woodshed for risking his career, and a UFC card by riding a motorcycle through the streets of Rio, after we have seen former UFC Champ Frank Mir, boxer Paul Williams, and fellow Brazilian MMA fighter Will Ribeiro suffer the serious consequences of riding a motorcycle. Going after Aldo would be exactly like going after the New Orleans Saints in terms of market size. He is successful, has a loyal following at home in a country that produces MMA, and UFC champs at an alarming rate, but he is a very small name when it comes to the lucrative North American market. Getting any kind of headline and play for Aldo in the United States could only help him, and galvanize the fans behind him, and maybe just maybe make a casual fan give a shit about the next time he fights.
Now the other offseason issue, but not one that initially captivated the attention of fans was the Referee lockout. In the offseason, nobody gave a damn about the refs, and even going into the pre-season the attitude of most fans was closer to indifference than anything else. That quickly began to change, and the NFL has capitalized on this, as much as negative news could be capitalized on. MLB has some great playoff races going on right now, and the NHL is locked out (not getting 1% of the coverage of the NFL lockout from last year) but if you only watched the first 15 minutes of Sportscenter, or listen to most radio shows, you would never know it, because the freaking contracts of the NFL referees are getting more airtime. Of course it reached a fever pitch after the debacle on Monday Night Football... tell me Roger Goodell hasn't been doing his job, the Sportscenter that followed MNF was the highest rated in history, and all they talked about was the controversial call to end the game. The next day the ladies on "The View" a demographic not too inclined to talk football spent time discussing the NFL. People are watching, caring, writing, tweeting, and joining the debate about his product. Now I honestly believe that Goodell wanted to keep the replacements on the job for another week or two, so that he could cloud out the MLB playoffs with stories about the regular refs coming back, and really get the best deal possible, but his hand really was forced a week or two early. After the MNF game, he had lost a little of his leverage, and fans were really threatening to walk away. This weekend will still play out well for the NFL, as the last weekend of the MLB regular season will be mitigated by over-analysis of the Regular Referee's performance, and the most criticized people on the field, the officials, will be loved for at least part of the first game back.
-When Zuffa purchased Strikeforce, Dana White, for reasons only known to him decided to announce the agreement on a Saturday morning interview with Ariel Helwani. This is exactly the type of announcement that should have been made at a big time press conference with Dana, Lorenzo, Frank and Scott Coker talking to ESPN, FOXSports, and all the MMA Media there. Instead it was done on a couch, where Dana looked like he was getting up after a rough night out. If UFC had half of the media savvy this would have been big news, and could have given the sport a big bump. The NFL took terrible news for the sport, and turns it into massive ratings for it's TV partners, the UFC took the biggest news that MMA has ever seen and turned it into a non-event for even casual fans. UFC stars could have been doing interviews seated next to Strikeforce stars with talking points of how great this was for the sport. Instead the big sports news outlets felt slighted, and while it was covered, the hype and potential importance of the move was left the MMA dedicated web-sites to discuss, and the deal still has not been maximized in the eyes of almost every observer.