Saturation Point

Mark Cuban has suggested the NFL is spreading itself too thin with numerous non-Sunday games. (USA TODAY Sports)

Mark Cuban has suggested the NFL is spreading itself too thin with numerous non-Sunday games. (USA TODAY Sports)

Mark Cuban thinks the NFL is biting off more than it can chew. Speaking with reporters on Sunday evening, then expanding on his initial thoughts in a 1,585-word Facebook post on Monday night, he argued that the league is overextending itself with Thursday Night Football and the return of late-season Saturday games. Cuban compared the NFL to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? — which, once it reached phenomenon status in the early 2000s, went from being on once per week to every weeknight and effectively died — and thinks people will get sick of the product if the games aren’t confined to Sundays and Monday nights. “Pigs get fat,” Cuban said. “And they’re getting hoggy. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way.”

The headline here — one apparently big enough to compel Cuban to elaborate at length on some off-the-cuff comments he made to a few basketball writers — is his claim the NFL will implode in 10 years. As ESPN’s Kevin Seifert points out, there are no numbers that back up Cuban’s assertions. Viewership for Thursday Night Football is solid, and it will obviously increase now that eight of the games are going to be on national television. Stats don’t support the notion that TNF games are particularly sloppier or more poorly played than ones on Sundays and Mondays. (Of course, there’s no metric for whether or not you enjoyed a game.) There aren’t any concrete signs the NFL is getting less popular or that putting football on three or four nights a week has been ruinous to their brand. There has to be a saturation point somewhere, but Roger Goodell hasn’t yet located it.

Regardless of whether Cuban is correct about the league’s imminent decline, he’s hitting on something that a not-insignificant amount of NFL fans think: We could do with a little less football.

One of of the great things about the NFL is that it’s convenient to follow. Because by necessity, football teams play only once per week, there’s not the content flood effect produced by something like the NBA’s 82-game schedule. Satellite TV ads might lead us to believe otherwise, but most sports fans have lives that prevent them from sinking into the couch for four hours every night to watch ballgames. I’m a committed basketball nerd, and I still miss out on a lot because of the sheer amount of stuff that happens in the NBA in a given week. The NFL is easier to grasp by dint of there being fewer games. You can settle in each Sunday afternoon and feel like you have a decent handle on the league. In this respect, Cuban’s right: Football is as popular as it is in part because there is not a lot of it.

I don’t watch many Thursday Night Football games. I’m just not at all in the mood for the NFL in the middle of the week. I prefer to settle into football for the majority of a single day, where the games are stacked on top of each other, which means there’s usually something compelling happening for six hours straight. There is something to be said for a sport that you can consume on Sunday, read about on Monday and largely forget about until it returns again the next week. The NFL allows you to have a life outside of it. I assume I’m in the minority in thinking this way, though. If people don’t want TNF, they’re not voting with their remotes.

If we’re to assume the NFL is sinkable, as Cuban suggests, it’s hard to know what will eventually sink it. It could be safety concerns or some unforeseen cultural shift in tastes. (We used to be a baseball nation; we’re now a football nation; we might be into something else in 50 years.) The NFL’s single-minded desire to expand its reach in service of increasingly obscene profits is as good a candidate as any other — greed is a form of stupidity — but there are no there are no indications the public’s appetite for football has been sated. Roger Goodell and company’s hogginess might turn people off, but it’s not yet keeping them from turning the channel.

8 thoughts on “Saturation Point

  1. Safety concerns could sink the NFL? If the brain damage caused by football violence continues to get worse then there wont be any players to watch because parents wont let their kids play the sport so there will be no high school and colleges to feed the pro league. Then, Cuban will be right and people will really stop watching; but, it wont be due to over saturation on TV as we’ll watch if its on.

  2. My pet peeve with the Thursday games is that they carry primitive production values. They are so painful to watch that they do the NFL a disservice.

  3. Just moving more games to midweek won’t oversaturate the product. The teams would still be playing the same number of games; the games would merely be spread out throughout the week. The oversaturation will come when the league inevitably goes to an 18-week schedule, then tries for 20, then 22, then 24, and expands the playoffs to 16 teams (we all know that’s coming, don’t we?) and tries to set up teams in London, maybe a division in Europe, etc.

    • This is key. While I don’t support adding more games during the week because of scheduling/fatigue issues affecting the quality of play, from a purely selfish perspective I say bring it on. I’d watch at least 6-8 games a week from start to finish given the chance; currently even with Sunday Ticket I’m limited to five (although at least I get to pick two of them).

      It just seems funny to hear a basketball owner talk about oversaturation when his league has 82 games that mean very little since losing teams routinely make the playoffs…and every team has games during the season where they’re openly not trying (resting healthy stars, etc).

      • And don’t you think, because of that, he’s qualified to speak about the NFL on this issue? Cuban’s an owner, not to mention a very intelligent businessman. He knows what sells and why it does (and also why it doesn’t). It’s not like he’s the NBA commissioner, who would have some sort of control over those issues. It does seem funny to read someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about, just so happens its not Cuban in this case.

  4. It’s good the game will be spread out for the players. But as our mothers and grandmas always told us “Too much of a good thing is not really a good thing.” Cuban’s comparison to Who wants to be a millionaire has some validity. It was only a one hour show, yet it died from saturation. People really love the Sunday tradition/ritual of watching football, and even Monday. Will it, however, really be special if you have to commit 3-4 hours a seating 3-4x a week to view NFL games?

    • It’s actually bad for the players that the games are spread out. That means you have to play on Thursday on 4 days rest instead of 7. They’re just moving one of the games that would be on Sunday 3 days earlier. If they’re going to play games on Thursdays for the whole season they should go to an 18-week schedule and give every team two in-season byes and make sure the 2 teams playing the Thursday game are playing on 10 days rest instead of 4.

  5. my issue with the Thursday game is that its always the bottom of the talent pool. The two NFL teams playing are usually uninteresting or doing so badly in terms of talent and standings that they are not worth watching in the first place. It has nothing to do with saturation, but rather bottom of the barrel teams.