Boom Now, Bust Later – the NFL Effect on Business



Will the NFL feel the pain of losing customers?

Its no secret the NFL is king, supplanting baseball as America’s favorite pastime years ago. A lesser-known fact is that the NFL seems to be on a collision course for what will ultimately be a fall in popularity. Over time the league will undoubtedly be forced to change the way the game is played in order to finally protect the players health and well being, which critics allege the league had knowingly mistreated and/or ignored for far too long.

As a brief primer on concussions in the NFL, reports show an increasing number of retired NFL players who have suffered concussions developed memory and cognitive issues such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Hall of Famer Mike Webster was the first former NFL player to be diagnosed with CTE. After his retirement Webster suffered from amnesia, dementia, depression, and bone and muscle pain. Publicity surrounding Webster’s struggles opened the floodgates to similar stories of disease, illness, and even suicide. [1]

While proposed changes surrounding increased player safety can’t be argued against, it seems that the game of professional football, by adopting these necessary precautions, by way of rules and safety standards, is evolving into the opposite of what made it so popular to begin with. The speed and hard-hitting violence, which characterize the NFL, is eventually going to be replaced by a very different version of what fans have come to expect. An experience that currently can be likened to real life gladiators on the field of battle.

The underlying question is, did the NFL, in order to become as big and profitable as it is now, harm itself by failing to address the conditions and known risks of playing the sport. Has the NFL conditioned us, the consumer, to love a game that’s no longer sustainable from a health/injury risk perspective and will they now be forced to slowly change it to a version that should have been in place long ago. To serve as an analogy, will they now be trying to sell a non-fat food to a consumer audience who has been raised on, the tastier, fattier option since they were born. Will the customer scoff at the change? Will they continue to buy the product and spend the same amount of money supporting it?

The NFL finally appears to be trying to stay ahead of this issue, as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote an open letter to 10 million NFL fans that although the league maintains an “unwavering commitment to player health,” professional football “will remain the hard-hitting, physical sport that you love.” [2]

From a business perspective, it’s something to take note of. The NFL will most likely not resemble its current self in next few years. With the amount of evidence and lawsuits building related to the negative long-term effects of football related injuries and the risks of playing, it’s conceivable that, at some point, the sport might cease to exist (at the professional level) altogether.

Mounting litigation against the NFL is not helping to support the longevity of the sport. This past July, a federal judge granted preliminary approval to a landmark deal that would compensate thousands of former NFL players for concussion-related claims. More than 4,500 former players have filed suit, some accusing the league of fraud for its handling of concussions and keeping them in the dark about the dangers of head injuries. In total, the suit would cover a class of nearly 20,000 former players, providing them with medical testing and treatment, along with compensation to those with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease, dementia and, in some cases, death with CTE. [3]

The Boom and Bust mentality characterized by the NFL’s behavior is a stern warning to other organizations. While in growth mode, its easy for a firm to take advantage of its resources, especially if the firm is in the service industry where employees serve as a firm’s most valuable resource. As a manager, you must identify whether you are growing at the expense of your resources, or whether you are managing those resources for the long-term. This can play a part in what your business will look like in the future and whether you’re sacrificing resources for short-term success or building a brand with sustainability.





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