Is the NFL the new WWE?
A simple rule of life is if you don’t understand the behavior, backtrack and figure out who is making the money and usually the behavior becomes crystal clear. Deflategate seems confusing; depending on your perspective either Goodell, Kraft or Brady looks like a bumbling boob, but the reality is you don’t get to the positions they are in as a bumbling boob. So let’s step back and follow the money and see where it leads.
NFL — In the height of the NBA playoff, the NHL playoffs, and during the MLB season, the NFL has total media domination. Traditionally this is the one time of the year that the NFL plays second fiddle to the other sports, but not this year. The real competition in the NFL is not between the Patriots and the Jets, it is between the NFL and the other sports leagues for the public’s time and attention. The timing on this is perfect after the draft and my bet is all the appeals and drama will be wrapped up just before training camp begins. The NFL is a clear and obvious winner.
Patriots — This one took me a little longer to figure out. I kept asking my why a sharp, self made operator like Bob Kraft would push so hard for Rodger Goodell to be commissioner, support him so vociferously and then be publicly humiliated by him twice with Spygate and Deflategate. Had he lost his fastball? Then I looked at the money: The Patriots have displaced the Dallas Cowboys as the most recognized global brand in the NFL. They inspire love and hate, which any marketer will tell you are the two sides of the same golden coin. Indifference is the currency you fear.
So with this perspective, let’s go back to the soap opera and see how it looks. Goodell and Kraft have a mutually reinforcing relationship that has propelled the NFL and the Patriots to un-rivaled levels of attention from the non-sports media and populace. They are the modern day Vince McMahon and Captain Lou Albano. Kraft’s vigorous finger waving and demand for an apology seemed so out of character, but as Captain Lou it all makes sense. Spygate and Deflategate are almost identical incidents, minor transgressions turned into major felonies, but neither a true threat to the integrity of the game. In real world events like Ray Rice, the NFL has truly stumbled and bumbled, but with the staged “gates” they look like kings. Now let’s address some of the bit players.
Belichick — One of the head scratchers is why Bill Belichick was totally exonerated by the Wells report. It’s hard to believe he didn’t know what was going on. He was the fall guy for Spygate and figured it out afterwards, this time around he made it clear to Kraft and Goodell he was out, period.
Brady — A golden boy quarterback reaching the end of his career, the perfect fall guy. The narrative of hero to villain is endlessly powerful and if you went through every quarterback in the NFL you could not cast a better character for the role.
Fans — We are the suckers who pay for this soap opera. For some the price is high and for others the soap opera is well worth the price of admission.
Media — Losers in the journalistic sense for getting duped, but they made a lot of money, so they can decide how the tradeoff works for them.
Owners — The 31 other owners who have let Kraft seize center stage, but like the media have been well compensated for the experience.
Kraft and Goodell are maximizing the NFL’s short term revenue at huge risk to the league. If the public ever decides that this is a soap opera, how long before it questions if the soap opera has moved from the side lines to the field? Boxing and Baseball once held the pinnacle and know how hard the fall from grace is.
Does this sound like a conspiracy theory? Yes, but the alternative is Kraft and Goodell are bumbling boobs who have fallen backwards into huge piles of money. Which do you think is more plausible?