NFL to compel teams to appear on Hard Knocks

This week’s early contender for ‘Bad Idea of the Week’ is the National Football League (NFL)’s proposal to be able to compel teams to appear on HBO’s Hard Knocks.

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the league may be able to force teams to appear on the show if there are no volunteers. There are some teams which will be exempt:

  • Teams that have made the playoffs in the last two seasons [EDIT: It is actually the playoffs in either of the two previous seasons]
  • Teams with a new head coach
  • Those teams that have appeared on the show in the previous decade.

This means that (if teams keep their ranking positions at the end of the season and there are no coaching changes) the teams that will be eligible for the proposal are: Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Jacksonville, San Diego, Oakland, Philadelphia, the Giants, Detroit, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Arizona and St Louis. [EDIT: with the correction above, some of these teams are now no longer included]

While some of these teams could be interesting to watch, the proposal is, overall, a bad idea. But why?

First of all, from the league’s point of view it makes total sense. After the Jets (read: Rex Ryan) appearance on the show in 2010 and the lockout in 2012 there were few teams willing to let the cameras in. The Dolphins season was not fantastic, though it did offer the producers the opportunity to show lots of slow motion shots of the Dolphins cheerleaders. There was a fair bit of filler of this type each episode.

This season the Bengals appeared on the show for the second time, and again couldn’t hold a candle to the interest of the Jets season. However, there was still an audience for the show, and the money brought in to the league is something that they will not want to lose. Under this proposal that risk has been totally removed.

With the criteria of only making poorly performing teams appear on the show, it will also help the league to get more people interested in whatever franchise is featured – as a marketing opportunity for the league, the idea certainly holds water.

For the teams, however, it is quite a different deal. Some teams, such as the Giants and Patriots, hardly seem interested in hosting the show, and as Andrew Brandt, former front office executive with the Packers revealed, they weren’t the only franchises totally unwilling to let the cameras in.

If the team is forced to let the cameras into their world, it quite likely that we’ll see more performances like that of James Harrison with the Bengals, who pretty much avoided the Hard Knocks cameras as much as possible (much like he has avoided being a factor on the field).

And finally, the audience. While the show can be interesting, and offer some insight into the world of NFL training camp, how much less interesting and enjoyable will the show be if no one wants the cameras to be there? For fans of the teams that appear, it could make their team look foolish, reticent or just like a bunch of assholes. It will be hard for any team that appears on the show against it’s will to build much of a neutral following if they clearly look awkward, uninterested or like they’re trying too hard (imagine an entire team made up of Taylor Mays).

While this idea can be seen as good business sense for the league, it could be a really poor move for the quality of the show, the reputation of the teams and the people who ought to be important when planning a reality TV show: the audience.

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International Series offers London clubs opportunities for growth

The first of two National Football League (NFL) International Series games has been played at Wembley this past weekend, and as usual, discussion turns to whether an NFL team could be based in London.

One issue frequently cited is the competition for fans with other sports. With the capital already hosting athletics, cricket, rugby and several football teams during the year, is there really space for another sport? And will the NFL, with it’s glitz and swagger, have a negative effect on other parts of the London sports map?

One man who doesn’t think it will be a problem is Phil Alexander, chief executive at Crystal Palace. The influence of American football is something Alexander has plenty of first hand experience with: in 1991 he led the London Monarchs in points scored as they won the inaugural World League of American Football (WLAF)

Speaking before the first of the International Series games last week, he told me that rather than causing greater competition, the addition of an NFL franchise in London could offer local teams a wider audience to target:

“There could be a lot of cross-over activities to be had. I think if you’ve got a customer who wants to go and see live events they’re happy to go to more types of events.

“I think there’s room for another sport like American football in this country. I don’t think it would have any effect.”

He also moved to dismiss concerns whether the London sports scene would be over-saturated:

“No, because I don’t think the American football fans will come just from London. They’ll come from all over the UK and Europe. They would travel for that.

“Our catchment area’s very local, we’re looking at south London primarily, where I feel the American football would pull from a lot further afield. “

And if the league can continue to attract fans from across Europe to Wembley, then the increased number of fans that might be tempted to see London-based teams could benefit teams like Palace.

Fulham are, of course, the other team who could look to benefit from the NFL foot traffic, given their links to the Jaguars.

While the likeliness of the Jags moving to London any time soon is small (they would have to pay $100 million to get out of their lease in Florida before 2030) they are certainly in prime position to try and develop a UK fan base, given their ties to Fulham through their shared owner.

Cross-promotion, special offers and the increased marketing opportunities that the Jaguars enjoy in the UK (they can market the team as they would in their local region, unlike any other NFL side) could give them a real opportunity to grow their support. Being able to promote with and through Fulham at the same time could help them to tap into that customer base that Alexander mentioned.

English football on Saturday at Craven Cottage, American football on Sunday at Wembley. Premier League and the NFL, back to back. That’s a strong combination, and could be used as a draw for fans of both the round and oval ball games.