Give Me RedZone Or Give Me Death
By TJ Hatter
In my debut column here at www.football.com I’m going to start very personally and tell you about the moment I felt true love. It was in September of 2010 and I was living in Knoxville, Tennessee. The University of Tennessee, the day prior, had a typically frustrating game, befitting the entirety of the Derek Dooley Era/Error. With a Hair of the Dog that Bit Me beer in my hand, I clicked to this new channel that we in Knoxville were getting a free preview of for the weekend.
That, ladies and gents, is how I found the pure glory that is the NFL RedZone.
The lack of commercials was magical. The ability to see everything that impacted my fantasy team was addictive. The splendor of seeing every fun play of every game, whilst being able to focus on the big games of the weekend at the same time, made me wonder how I had lived so long without it. I ordered the channel, thus adding an extra $10 to my cable bill (because you have to get a package and can’t just get a channel you like) after about two hours out of the seven I spent watching this thing uninterrupted like that scene in ‘A Clockwork Orange.’
Yet the more I thought about how much I loved it, the more I thought about it in general.
It’s an incredible innovation, and worth examining on several levels.
Just analyzing this from a business perspective is fascinating. I am the NFL. I am putting my product up for open bidding. You are TV Networks. You’re going to pay Billions * BILLIONS * of dollars for the right to televise my product. Then you, the TV Networks, are going to hire producers, announcers, analysts, and you’re going to hype my product for weeks at a time, so everyone is talking about me. As a result of this hype you, the TV Networks, are going to make stars out of my best players, thus driving up jersey sales that I profit from, tickets sales to see live games that I profit from and you do not, and fostering an obsession with my league.
For I am the NFL.
But you, TV Networks, are doing this because you’re going to make money off of the commercials you air during my games. People love to watch these games and sporting events are the only thing on TV that viewers aren’t actively using their DVR for, which means that commercials are actually watched, giving even more value to advertising agencies and their clients. So you, the TV Networks, are happy.
I, The NFL, should be happy. But I, the NFL, am always looking for more.
So, after you the TV Networks do all of this for me, I the NFL, am going to form my own network, cherry pick the most interesting parts of every game, which are covered, announced, and produced by TV Networks, cut out the commercials which make you money completely, and sell it to cable companies for profits that only I keep. That’s like a move out of the Godfather. Or, more accurately, it’s like a move out the Goldman Sachs playbook, when they were able to repackage hedge funds and derivatives to always make a profit regardless of the quality of what they were selling.
And that’s another aspect of it.
Making the NFL Schedule is tough to do, paradoxically, because of what we all love about it, which is parity. So there are occasionally weekends when the slate of games is rather unappetizing. Under normal circumstances, I’d watch my team on Network TV and then probably go do something else, particularly if it’s a lovely fall day. So the advertisers would see depreciated value, but not a total loss. Well, if I’m watching the RedZone, and I only see the highlights of Jacksonville at Cleveland and the rest of the schlock in the pinball format I know and love, I will saddle up for seven hours of commercial-free football rather than going and doing something else. That’s a *Total* loss to advertisers.
Yet you, the TV Networks, have to take it. Because I am the NFL.
From a purely Ayn Rand perspective, that’s about as good as it gets. It’s certainly good for the consumer. Certainly good for the NFL as a "Mega Corporation." But not always great for some of the other "Mega Corporations." Make of that what you will. Also, I must admit that I’m always bemused by people who wouldn’t rather watch the RedZone as opposed to a regular game. One caveat: if it’s "YOUR" team, I get that. But that's another aspect of it. The RedZone has the possibility to change fandom. Late in the season as your team is middling through, how many teenagers and twenty-somethings who are growing up with the RedZone are going to stick with a 2-10 squad playing out the string? I'm already at the point where I'm often happy to focus on the RedZone exclusively. I have to think that those that grow up with it, like those who grew up with the Internet, cannot imagine a time when it did not exist. How many of these folks, particularly in areas where the team has been down for years, will just make the RedZone their favorite team? Particularly in economic times when regional fluidity is higher than ever.
That's part of the generation gap I've noticed with the RedZone as well. I’ll admit it, when the Jets degenerate from mid to late season, as they did last year, I will watch RedZone exclusively, because I just don’t feel like being trolled. It’s only fun to watch people playing out the string when there is a lack of other options or if you only care about your team. I remember those days. I’m happy they’re gone. But early in the year, I acquiesce to my father and brother’s devotion to watching every snap of the Jets and don’t mind, provided they let me change the channel during commercial breaks, which is often met by urgent requests to flip it back to the Jets after mere seconds.
But it isn't just my father who's cranky with the RedZone. Lots of folks I used to work with and in my family, all of whom are roughly over 40 and are nowhere near as bullish as my friends are. Which is even more ironic for advertisers because I am in the 18-30 demographic that they crave, as surveys show that brand loyalty, such as it is, gets formed during those years. So the RedZone is robbing Networks and their advertisers in yet another way. It’s truly amazing. Will this eventually devalue the advertising value of the NFL? Not necessarily. Live sports and award shows are the only venues that most people don't watch on their DVR. Which means they're the one place where people will sit through commercials. So the NFL can continue to pull from multiple revenue streams, which explains how they've become the monolith that they are.
For me, I'm poised to happily spend every NFL Sunday with my fellow Millennial, Tweeting, commercial-adverse cohorts who are all far too obsessed with their fantasy teams. Which is precisely what the NFL has in mind.