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.

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.

Thoughts on Punishment for Drugs Cheats in Sport

Everyone knows that drugs are a problem in professional sports. It isn’t news, and is something that authorities have been struggling against for decades. So how can drugs be removed from sports, and what is the most effective deterrent for drugs cheats?

Currently athletes, cyclists and the like are suspended, often for a couple of years, and have their results (including medals) voided. In some cases, the medals are then awarded to the next placed athlete – for example, the silver medalist is upgraded to gold etc. That is all well and good until the person who finished second tests positive too, as was the case with the Tour de France after Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven titles.

The thing is, even with the threat of spoiled reputations, returned medals and voided wins, there are still drugs cheats being caught, whether its the rash of Jamaican athletes caught in the last few weeks, or Ryan Braun finally agreeing to take a suspension for the remainder of the baseball season, at a cost of millions of dollars in salary.

Rather than just suspending the guilty parties, and in the case of the likes of Braun, not paying them during suspension, here is a slightly different approach: take the money that they earned while cheating, and put it to a slightly different use.

For example: a professional cyclist is caught using performance enhancing drugs, and admits to having been using for five years. During these five years, he earned a total of $5m in prize money (I know these figures are not necessarily accurate or realistic, but it makes the maths easier). Regardless of his wages and if they were earned because of his chemically enhanced performance, or other sponsorship deals, it is known that he earned $5m prize money by cheating.

The cheat now ought to be made to repay the $5m. All of it. Regardless of his current circumstances. Say he has retired, doesn’t make an difference. $5m please. If he isn’t able to come up with the money then it should be treated in the same way as a bank debt or mortgage: reclaim and sell off property until the debt has been repaid. So not only is there the risk of having reputation and wins destroyed, but also going broke. Having to repay all prize money earned through cheating is a pretty solid incentive to not cheat.

So once this hypothetical $5m has been reclaimed, what to do with it? Simple: it should be given to the organisations such as WADA who fight drugs cheats. So the punishment is a two stage process: 1) we take back the money you got by cheating, 2) We give the money you earned by cheating to the people who caught you. (The idea of Ryan Braun’s forfeited payments being given to the MLB’s anti-drug organisation appeals as well, though some of it should go to the enforcement officer he got fired last year).

In terms of the money from sponsorship, it also ought to be possible for sponsors to sue the athletes who cheat to have all of the money earned during that deal while the athlete used drugs.

So, at the end of this hypothetical story, our cyclist has had his $5m prize money given to the organisation that caught him, lost the house he bought with that fraudulently obtained money, and is being sued by his sponsors for the money he got from them by trading on his not-as-wholesome-as-it-seemed opinion. Oh, and in the case of Ryan Braun, he has to deal with the business partner he lied to as well.

Racism in Football: Bring in The Rooney Rule

It has not been a good twelve months for race relations in football. John Terry and Luis Suarez have seen to that. Some of the fans have not been much better, with several players, Ashley Young, Ashley Cole and John Obi Mikel among them, being targeted for racial abuse on Twitter. And let us not forget the guy who sent abuse to Fabrice Muamba’s twitter account after he had a heart attack on the pitch. These are just a few examples of explicit discrimination against prominent sports figures because of their race.

But what about people not getting chances because of the colour of their skin? Out of the 92 Football League clubs, only 3 of them employ managers of an ethnic minority. That is 3.2%. In comparison, according to the latest Cencus, minorities make up 12.5% of the UK population.

One way to help to combat this inequality is to bring in a UK equivalent of the NFL’s Rooney Rule. Named after the head of the NFL’s Diversity Committee, the Rule is essentially a condition that for every Head Coaching opportunity that comes up at any of the 32 NFL teams, there must be at least one minority candidate interviewed.

While this might strike some people as tokenism, it the extra opportunities has been reflected by an increase in the hiring of minority candidates (remember, they simply need to be interviewed, not given the job).

The Rooney Rule was implemented in 2003. At the time there were 2 minority head coaches in the NFL (Tony Dungy of the Colts and Herm Edwards of the Jets). That is 6% of Head Coaches. Within 3 years, that had gone up to 22%, with Dennis Green (Cardinals), Art Shell (Raiders), Marvin Lewis (Bengals), Lovie Smith (Bears) and Romeo Crennel (Browns) all in head coaching positions.

Currently, 18.75% of Head Coaches are minorities: Lewis and Smith from the above list, as well as Crennel now with the Chiefs, Leslie Frasier (Vikings), Ron Riviera (Panthers) and Mike Tomlin (Steelers) – who was hired having had Rivera also interview for the position. Having minority candidates applying for positions means that while they might not always be hired, there is both a recognition of talent (Smith’s Bears were defeated by Dungy’s Colts in Superbowl XLI, and Tomlin’s Steelers won Superbowl XL and XLIII), as well as an increase in the visibility of minority coaches for younger generations. There is no suggestion that any of these men were hired because of their skin colour, rather that the Rooney Rule has helped to increase opportunities.

Why not apply a similar rule in football? It will not mean that suddenly there will be a flood of high-level minority managers, but there ought to be an increase in numbers – and hopefully this will mean that instead of every minority manager being “a role model”, they can be recognised for their skills.It will also mean that candidates will be able to go through interviews and improve on how owners can see the viability of appointing minority managers – rather than it being either old white English men or foreign managers.

For those who will say that this is an example of positive discrimination or affirmative action, I remind you that the rule says you need to interview one minority candidate, not always give them the job. But if there are no minorities interviewed, then the chances of them getting employed in management positions are negligible. This action would be massively preferable to the current inaction.