Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press
The league wasn’t always this way. The NFL has long been more business than family but never obnoxiously so. That’s changed rapidly under the leadership of commissioner Roger Goodell, and there’s no better example than what the league likely will do with the scouting combine.
Judy Battista of the NFL Network reported this week that starting in 2020, the league is considering putting some of the key combine workouts on television later in the day and probably in the evening.
The way it works now, for the most part, is players do drills during the morning and afternoon and then meet with teams at night. The NFL will probably flip those things and put the workouts in prime time. So you can flip between Killing Eve and Throwing Steve.
The idea is to drive up ratings for the combine, which means more advertising dollars, which means more cash for the NFL. It’s the same playbook the league has used before. It moved the draft to prime time, and this past April it drew an average of 6.1 million viewers across its television and digital platforms.
Making cash is what businesses do. We all do it. We are capitalists.
That doesn’t mean I have to like it. There’s something appallingly excessive about trying to squeeze every dollar from a fun event highlighted by dudes running around in shorts while football nerds take note of tenths of a second and hand size.
And make no mistake about it: This move will be terrible for the athletes themselves. Their workouts have been scheduled earlier in the day at the combine for decades for a reason. It’s less of a strain on them physically, when they’re less run down by pressures of the day. Maybe this isn’t a big deal, but if the league really cared about the players, if the NFL were really a family, it would make it as easy as possible on prospects for what already is a series of stressful days.
But this isn’t about the players. As has been the case all too often lately, it’s about that cash. It’s always about that cash.
The NFL wants to be in every part of your life, all the time, like wireless.
Darron Cummings/Associated Press
We can imagine what’s next: For the low price of just $1.99 per minute, you can get your own bench-press cam! Or watch a guy stand around in shorts! Get your Apple Pay ready.
The combine in prime time may not get the ratings the draft does, but never underestimate the power of dudes running routes.
And the league knows we will watch it because we are all football addicts. The casual fan will tune in to get a look at their next star player even if it means blowing off a night out with friends. The hardcore fan will forget to pick up their kids from school, postpone date night and get subs from Uber Eats so they can watch.
When I asked several team executives about all of this, their response was: Duh. They were surprised it’s taken this long. They know their league. We all do.
Putting the combine in prime time is likely to be seen as a success almost immediately.
The issue is the long term. The league has saturated our lives with football at every turn. At some point, however, the fact that football games are on Sunday, Monday, Thursday and sometimes Saturday…that the draft is televised in prime time over several days…that the combine will be…well, you start to wonder when too much will be too much.
The hardcore NFL addicts will never tire of football. More casual fans might, like those who race to turn the channel now that Donald Trump, or talk of Trump, seemingly is on every channel all the time.
The greatest threat the NFL faces is itself—mainly, its pursuit of cash at all costs.
It’s a greedy league. At some point you wonder when that greed will start to eat away at the popularity from which it has grown.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.