Bradley’s Buzz: I hate the NFL. So why do I watch the NFL?

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

The things you learn from watching CNBC. “Power Lunch” was winding down when Tyler Mathisen asked Kelly Evans, “How many of last year’s top 100 shows would you guess were NFL games?”

“Twenty-five,” Evans said.

“Higher,” Mathisen said.

“Fifty,” she said.

“Higher,” he said.

“Seventy-five,” she said.

“Eighty-two,” he said. “And five college football games made it, too.”

This Nielsen-fueled list wasn’t just devoted to sports programming. It included the President’s State of the Union and Will Smith’s Oscars. No episode of “Yellowstone” cracked the top 100. No semi-reality show made it. No NBA Finals game made it. No World Series game made it. Macy’s Thanksgiving parade made it – at No. 44.

Georgia’s CFP final victory over Alabama was No. 34. The Bulldogs’ semifinal win over Ohio State on New Year’s Eve was 37th. The World Cup final was 38th. In TV Land, even those are smaller fare. Twenty-two of the top-rated 23 programs of 2022 were NFL games. Thirty-three of the top-rated 35 were NFL games.

Wrote Anthony Crupi in Sportico: “Post-tweedy academic types and the Terminally Online insist the Internet has killed off the American impulse to engage in a collective media experience. This interpretation only holds water if you’re willing to ignore the 171.3 billion TV ad impressions the NFL served up last year. The NFL is the monoculture – so much so that TV is now merely a delivery system for the league.”

The NFL gets many things wrong. Deshaun Watson was allowed to change teams before the league got around to suspending him. Tua Tagovailoa played a game five days after he’d apparently been concussed. The league took more than an hour after Damar Hamlin collapsed to suspend the Bengals-Bills game. (And then, per Don Van Natta’s ESPN report, it offered misleading reports as to why.) It ignored its rules manual to move a possible Chiefs-Bills AFC title tilt to our fair city.

As wrong-headed as the NFL can be, it remains a corporate genius where it matters, and all that matters is TV, of which the NFL occupies the bleeding edge. It moved its Thursday night games to Amazon Prime. It just sold its Sunday Ticket to YouTube. The most familiar NFL TV crew – Joe Buck and Troy Aikman – jumped from Fox to ESPN. The peerless Al Michaels landed at Amazon. (Alongside a mismatched Kirk Herbstreit, but never mind.)

The NFL’s biggest weekend is upon us: six wild-card games over three days, half the games in prime time. Never mind that five of the 12 teams finished 9-8 or worse. Never mind that Tagovailoa and Lamar Jackson won’t play. Never mind that Green Bay’s collapse meant Aaron Rodgers won’t face the 49ers. (The Seahawks and Geno Smith will be San Francisco’s opposition, though not in prime time.)

When it’s gametime, nothing matters except that it’s an NFL game. That’s more than enough. The NFL, which had mostly left Christmas to the NBA, just reclaimed it. Three NFL games drew an average of 22.9 million viewers; five NBA offerings drew an average 4.27M. The late game between the sub-.500 Rams and the sub-.500 Broncos – the Rams won 51-14 – was the 35th-highest-rated telecast of 2022.

I’d love to hate the NFL for its ham-handedness. That said, I watch the NFL more than I watch the NBA, MLB and college football/basketball combined. The NFL is the better product. Its games don’t last four hours, the way college football does, or 3-1/2 hours with nothing but strikeouts and walks. College hoops, sad to say, is a niche sport that goes wide only in March.

The NFL goes wide every weekend from September through February, and then there’s the combine, and then there’s the draft. NFL non-events are bigger than other sports’ actual games. There’s a part of me that wishes it weren’t so, but I watch the NFL every Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights. The Chargers are supposed to be the team with no fans, but I’ve seen them so often I’ve become one.

The above is part of a regular exercise, written and curated by yours truly, available to all who register on for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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