I was idly watching a football game yesterday, Jets versus Patriots. My kids are avid Jets fans, so I was pulling for them. But predictably the Patriots and two amazing players, tight end Rob Gronkowski and quarterback Tom Brady put on a clinic at the end, and the game was tied. In overtime, I assumed the better team. the Pats, would win.
Then at the coin toss, inexplicably, the Patriots (or the referee) opted to kick off rather than receive. Late in the game with both teams dead tired and wounded, the receiving team has a huge advantage. And the Patriots gave it away.
They do not do that. They are too smart. I watched and re-watched the coin toss, and it appears that a Patriot player merely misspoke. But I thought “Oh my, the Jets are going to win this one. Is that preordained?”
And then I thought “Why not? Everything else in this country is crooked. Why would sports be any different?”
I then thought back to the third Superbowl, the one in which quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed victory for the upstart Jets over the Baltimore Colts. The whole thing was suspicious, forcing a merger of the two leagues against the wishes of most of the Old Guard. But someone or some small group saw a golden egg – television, sports, advertising – and decided that internecine warfare would harm the sport. The game was fixed, in my view, as was the Kansas City victory over Minnesota the following year, on which I won a $2 bet.
The NFL has grown now into our Sunday pastime, replacing church. It’s a gambling enterprise that officially wants nothing to do with gambling. But without gambling, the NFL would be no more than a minor diversion during winter. Proof of this lies in the fact that the NFL itself encourages gambling, the so-called “fantasy” leagues.
The thinking behind fantasy sports is brilliant. The NFL depends on TV advertising for its sustenance. It owns a highly-sought market segment – men who like to drink, look at sexy women and drive expensive trucks. Advertisers crave this demographic. Very few fans – seven percent, I’ve read – actually ever attend a game. It’s a sport made for television. Brand loyalty is intense, and fans are usually only interested in one team’s performance, the home team, on any given Sunday. Thus before fantasy leagues did each major market in the country have one big game, and a bunch of lesser-watched contests.
Fantasy gambling changed all of that – now football fans have a reason to watch virtually every game that is played, so see how the players they “own” perform. The sports bars have multiple sets showing every game in progress, and fans can pony up a few hundred dollars and subscribe to all the games. And television ratings have soared, as have advertising revenues, as have franchise values. All because of gambling.*
The NFL is a powerful force in American life – even if it can be shown that the sport causes concussions that damage brains (causing erratic behaviors, like animal cruelty or beating up the woman you love and throwing her off an elevator), it will be judged worth it.
Currently the city of San Diego is under the gun, threatened with loss of franchise if the taxpayers do not pony up for new digs. There’s talk of moving the Oakland and St. Louis franchises, and the shakedown is intense. Each stadium hosts, usually, eight games a season, so that taxpayers have to find uses for these monstrosities for the rest of the year. The economics of taxpayer-funded stadiums is a joke – the true beneficiaries are the team owners – looting the public treasury for private gain. That is the true American pastime.
Back to my original point – so much money at stake for a gambling-based enterprise, with powerful and greedy owners at the center of it all, and we assume the games are played on the straight-up?
If you believe that, I’ve got a
bridge stadium to sell you.
* The league now wants to create a franchise in London, which would play to empty stadiums but would expand the television schedule from 8 AM o 10 PM each Sunday.