NFL flexes media muscles

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 12, 2009



The NFL announced late last week that the 2009 schedule will be released "in prime time for the first time, exclusively on NFL.com and NFL Network." (See the entire release here.)
 
The league will issue the schedules for each team at 7 p.m., provide in-studio analysis, and provide reaction from around the country with reporters in cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago.
 
The news seems innocent enough.
 
But it's not.
 
In fact, it's more bad news for the traditional media, which has been battered, bloodied and bruised by a variety of factors in recent years, such as
  • an inability to master the web-based business model
  • print and broadcast news editors more interested in propelling political agendas than reporting news and
  • a major loss of trust among the public.
Modern technology, meanwhile, has made it possible for upstart media outlets – such as the Cold, Hard Football Facts – to beat the old sports media at its own game. We can do a better job, for example, covering sports events remotely than traditional newspapers can do with people on the ground. We provide a better product, in other words, with lower expenses.
 
All these factors have contributed to the decaying state of many old-guard media giants.
 
But for the sports media, the biggest problem might not be any of these issues. The biggest problem might be the growing desire and ability of the NFL (and other leagues) to control its own media and messaging through its own news outlets.
 
In the case of the NFL schedule announcement Tuesday, for example, the league is, all at once, the judge, jury and executioner. In one fell swoop Tuesday night, the NFL is:
  • creating the news
  • disseminating the news and
  • providing the context and analysis of the news with its own stable of reporters.
It's not right or wrong, per se, at least as we see it. From the point of view of the Cold, Hard Football Facts, and other independent media outlets like ours, it really doesn't affect what we do. We'll continue to dominate the battlefield of online football analysis like a remote-controlled pigskin Predator drone.
 
But we can tell you from our contacts with a variety of media sources that they are NOT happy with the growing power of the league to manage its own news.
 
The league originally got into the media business in the 1990s when it launched NFL.com. It took a bold, imaginative step forward a few years ago, of course, with the launch of NFL Network. More often than not, the league is able to break its own news on its own media outlets – as it will do Tuesday night.
 
The NFL also began broadcasting its own games on NFL Network – another bold move that takes revenue out of hands of broadcast partners and puts it directly in the hands of the league itself.
 
It's also led to speculation that the NFL could eventually broadcast all its own games. Instead of selling the broadcast rights to network partners, the NFL could, theoretically, simply gobble up all the ad revenue itself.
 
Other professional leagues are certainly impressed with the steps taken by the NFL. The NBA, NHL and MLB have all launched cable networks.
 
Individual media outlets, not to mention trade groups such as the Pro Football Writers of America (of which the publisher of CHFF is a member) are constantly battling the league for access to teams and players, at a time when teams and the league seem increasingly wary of access and players are increasingly distrustful of media. (In the case of individual players, their distrust of the media is quite understandable, considering the rumors, false reports, hack jobs and outright lies perpetrated by so many reporters and rumor-mongers these days).
 
Keep in mind, though, that there are built-in safety nets for fans and media.
 
The NFL simply can't grow – or maybe even survive – without an eager media desperate to serve loyal football fans every last scrap of news. Broadcast media, for example, is largely responsible for the NFL's popularity. So if the league turned its back on these partners it would range somewhere from arrogant at one end to suicidal at the other.
 
The league has also been caught up in an ugly fight for distribution with cable provider Comcast. So it doesn't have unilateral power to get its message into American homes at this point, and the Feds themselves are getting involved to help sort things out.
 
So it does look like this battle between league and media will continue for years to come. But it's a battle in which modern technology and the popularity and power of the NFL give it an ever-increasing ability to serve as its own news judge, jury and executioner, as the pigskin public will see Tuesday night.

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