Advice for the NFL

12 Nov , 2017  

With viewership down, controversy at an all-time high, the comish on the hot seat with Jerry Jones, and Papa Jones asking why it can sell America’s favorite food during football season, it is time the NFL examine its product and perception. Here is my advice for the NFL


  1. Get out of the Business of Controversy:


With the wave of NFL players that have taken to kneeling as a form of protest against police brutality and racial and social injustice, the NFL finds itself defending a narrow island between those who advocate for free speech and those that have deep reverence for the flag, the national anthem, and all of the people that have died for our freedom. The NFL looks like it has just decided to punt. It has not really addressed the players’ (and their advocate’s) concerns nor has it really shown action to the millions of fans that would like to see the national anthem returned to its former form of full standing attendance.


Advice: Take a stand and show it by your actions. Being in the middle means you don’t care and don’t care to make a difference on these increasingly important social and patriotic issues. The league could be patriotic and address player concerns by making investments, but its chosen not to do that.


  1. Respect and Take Women Seriously


The NFL, especially through its players, is tied to violence against women. Players commit crimes against women and it gets covered up. Next, many teams have cheerleaders, yet in recent years we learned that these talented and hard-working women are paid next to nothing or even nothing. Wow! If the work and output are not valuable, then shutdown the cheerleading squads and get them off the cameras.  Otherwise, pay them for the professional work that they do. This is, of course, that same league that has mostly relied on part-time referees to carry out its business. Pay people for their work, including the women!


Advice: Every guy has a mom and most have a wife, and many have daughters and sisters, so it is not just good ethics, but good business to think of all these women as fans and friends of the league. Make players sit when they commit crimes and when they harm and abuse women. A few weeks of pink socks is not real reverence for the women in our lives.


  1. NFL Play Causes Bodily Injury (and Brain Trauma)


It is sad to read about the many cases of NFL veterans that have become crippled and even sadder to hear some talk that have lost their senses and brain-power to the ravages of NFL play. The NFL has to acknowledge the damages they cause. In many communities (including mine), high school and pee-wee leagues are unable to form because parents and youngsters fear the game itself. Indeed, perception is reality in this case. Even if the NFL hides behind some statistics, the perception is now that football harms brains. The NFL cannot win in that argument. It should do more to show it cares for those harmed in the past and to show how it will create a safe and inviting league for the future.


Advice: Change the emphasis on head hits. It is the only way to ensure safety.


  1. Cities are Not Your Banks


Although many lower-tiered cities would still give up leg, arm, and brain to land an NFL franchise, the reality is that many cities have not seen the purported economic value. Sure, about 53 high-paid players will bring their salaries and spending to the community. But really, almost everything else is a service job that operates during or around the 8 home games a year. The benefit to cities is no longer as large as it was once seen to be. Look at the NFL move to Los Angeles. It does not involve municipal funding. Rightfully, so. Would a few scores of athletes really move the LA economy? No. Many small cities see the TV recognition as a big boost, but I suspect more cities are jaded by what happened to St. Louis. Build it. They will come. Then, the will leave. Really, who wants to be the next St. Louis or San Diego? It is much better to give tax dollars to lure Amazon or the next Facebook data center. That brings lots of jobs and a boost to the economy that last more than 8 games a year, each of which is only 3 hours long. Cities have more issues than funding a half-a-billion-dollar field for 8 home football games – just 24 hours of action and even less of play time. Pay for your own stadiums, NFL.


Advice: Get out of public funding models. It hurts too many people and does not bring beneficial economic impact. If you want to help communities, use your influence to uplift them, not sink them with debt. Write your own bonds – there is a hedge fund that would love NFL bonds.

  1. Evolve the Game with New Scoring Options

Many plays in the NFL are just boring. Some are very dangerous and boring (like kickoffs). These are not good for NFL development or the excitement of the game.

Moving the PAT out has made more games interesting by resulting in more missed PATs and then more 2 point conversions, as needed to catch-up. That turned out to be a bigger change than most people expected. How about a 4-point field goal at distances over 55 yards? I’ve always thought the distance for a two-point conversion is too short. If a couple of yards is enough for 2 points, well how about a three-point conversion from say the 35 yard-line? A team could really rally back if he could get 9 points after a TD and a long conversion.

Also, can punts be made more interesting? Most are violent plays that result in a 3 to 8-yard return (except for the many that are not caught or are fair-caught). It is boring and dangerous and people on TV only see the punt and catch. The rest of the blocking and fielding is mostly missed. Punting could be replaced by free kicking. Could a team free kick instead of punt? Punts must be really dull for players too. Run to the punter, then run back to block, all for a few yards. Most punts are 35-45 yards. It is a strange and uninteresting way to turn over the ball. Maybe the league could even allow the team to throw the ball instead of punting. It is how we “punted” in school yard play. There were no blocks and returns were super exciting. Blocked punts are rare, super dangerous, and really not that memorable (except the one in New Orleans).

Other places that need innovation include, making penalties within 20 yards really count. Why should a penalty be half the distance to the goal line? You messed up at a bad time; make it count! Take the full yardage all the way to the goal line. I’d also like to see more clarity on what is pass interference. It seems like most anything goes now. And speaking of cornerbacks, if they can’t tackle, then let’s be more realistic in what constitutes being down (Tony Romo was right about Deion, btw). Cornerbacks just hit receivers or push them out of bounds. Again, boring. Teach proper tackling or change what is down.

Can we make a kick-off an offensive play? In CFL ball, un-returned kicks give a point to the kicking team. How about we do something like that? Get rid of the touchbacks and force teams to return the ball. If you don’t return it, ok, give up a point. It would certainly change the nature of a kick-off.

On kickoffs, it would be great to see a new form for the “on-sides” kick. What if a team could drop kick or even punt the kick-off? With so much parity in the game and so many games going down to the last few possessions, it seems only fair to allow teams to “play.” Here is a crazy one: if you want the ball after a score, you can have it, at your own goal line. No need for an on-sides kick, you just have 99+ yards to go and make the other side take it away from you. It would involve more skill and strategy than the unpredictable bounce of an oval ball on an on-sides kick. It would add a lot more drama to the game, too.

Advice: bring new scoring options to the game. Increase the chances for comebacks. Revisit punts, kickoffs, and on-side kicks. These have monotonous outcomes and add feel more like golf than strategic plays.

  1. Nostalgia Counts…Get Back to It!

Nearly every team has tinkered with its uniform in a way to make it worse. The Packers, Cowboys, Raiders, Bears, and Giants are a few that come to mind with uniforms that have kept their roots and are still great. These are some of the most popular jerseys, too and each as a simple two-color scheme. Look at some of these next generation uniforms. Really, what is the Miami dolphin doing? It looks like a downward dog pose from yoga. Can a dolphin even flex like that? And Tampa Bay’s awful numbers. That was supposed to be an improvement. Who comes up with these things? The two-tone Jaguar helmets were plain silly. Does anyone get a two-tone anything? Weird.

Nostalgia is king. Gen X wants to be a kid again. Millennials want something old and authentic because, well, it is real and being real is best enjoyed when everyone around you is fake. NFL, get with the program. Flashy unis might seem cool, but people remember their team in the jerseys of their youth and especially the jersey of winning seasons. Bring some discipline to jerseys and uniforms. Encourage throwbacks and bring back more of the old.  Or better yet, just go back to the old uniforms. Let’s do it, like it is 1984 all over again. And, the one-color jerseys on Thursday night football look like some kind of sick cult-sleep over gone wrong. I’m not into that stuff and watch college ball on Thursdays. At least they don’t look like they are in pajamas. Get a real uniform.


Advice: Celebrate the past and people’s childhood. Everyone wants a fairy tale. Be part of that.

Before the 2017 season, I rooted for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and whoever was beating the Dallas Cowboys.

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Russell Walker helps companies develop strategies to manage risk and harness value through analytics and big data. He has done novel research in data monetization and digital disruption and advises leading firms on these topics. As Director of Experiential Learning in Analytics and Associate Teaching Professor of Marketing and International Business at the Foster School of Business, at the University of Washington, Dr. Walker is an academic thought-leader on analytics. Russell Walker has developed and taught leading executive programs on Big Data and Analytics, Strategic Data-Driven Marketing, Enterprise Risk, Operational Risk, and Global Leadership. Previous to moving to Seattle and the Foster School, Dr. Walker was Clinical Professor at the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University, where he founded and taught many popular courses in analytics and risk management. His is the author of the book From Big Data to Big Profits: Success with Data and Analytics (Oxford University Press, 2015) which examines data monetization strategies and the development of data-centric business models in the new digital economy. He is also the author of the award-winning text Winning with Risk Management (World Scientific Publishing, 2013), which examines the principles and practice of risk management as a competitive advantage. Dr. Walker consults with firms on the topics of Big Data and Analytics, Data Monetization, Risk Management, and Business Strategy. Russell Walker can be reached at: @RussWalker1776

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