By Ron Borges
Talk of Fame Network
With declining TV ratings and attendance at home a growing problem in a number of cities whose teams are – my new favorite word – odorous, the NFL has a plan to overcome the problem.
Let’s go play in China!
That’s about as weak a marketing battle plan as one can think of.
According to Mark Waller, the NFL’s executive vice-president of International Whatever, the league’s only concerns with such a game are not about the logistics of staging it but about the potential impact on players after they return to the U.S. According to Waller, the focus is on, “How does a team come back from China and then play and be competitive after a trip like that?’’
Having made that trip a number of times, the answer is: In a week, it won’t be. In two weeks, it might be ... but maybe not.
But what the NFL usually does in these international games is to send two teams that aren’t competitive in the first place. So what does it matter? Because what do the Chinese know about pro football, assuming they haven’t hacked Bill Belichick’s e-mails to gain some inside information?
The larger issue for football fans is: When did this become the International Football League?
The NFL can’t sell out games in Jacksonville, San Francisco and, very soon, L.A. if the Rams keep going the way they’re going. So it wants to try China? How about trying to sell tickets in Chinatown first?
The NFL is the only league annually playing meaningful (in theory, at least) regular-season games overseas. When the great soccer teams of Europe come to the U.S. to play, do they put their regular-season games on display? No, they come over to play a “friendly’’ on summer vacations.
That’s what the NFL used to do, too, until some genius decided to screw up the regular season for a couple teams and ship them off to London, Mexico and now, apparently, China? Where next? How about Mars? Then it could call itself the Intergalactic Football League.
We understand that the NFL wants to grow its product and may be starting to feel it’s tapped out in the U.S. Perhaps that’s true. But more likely the problem domestically is that the league spends too much time on marketing and not enough time on football.
Maybe it should start worrying about keeping the fans it already has (a base that, if TV ratings are a reflection, are shrinking), rather than trying to sell the game to a country run by a government that doesn’t believe in unnecessary roughness on its own citizens.
Or it could concern itself more with trying to line a field in Canton, Ohio, to make it possible to play a Hall-of-Fame football game instead of worrying about lining one in Canton, China?