McCall: TV’s football coverage this fall overinflated

Jeffrey M. McCall

The old expression says you can’t get enough of a good thing. But that adage will be put to the test this fall when it comes to the amount of football on television. The football season is ready to explode on television screens with more games, more football spectacle and more talk shows than ever before. The combination of football and television is a broad cultural force in America.

College football’s opening weekend will see 45 games broadcast on national television. Big television dictates starting times and even the days when games are played. Televised college football games will be played regularly this year on Thursdays, and even some Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This can’t be good for the student part of the student-athlete equation.

The college season has been lengthened to harvest additional revenue from television. The finalist teams in the college playoff this year will play 15 games with a season stretching from Labor Day weekend through the title game on Jan. 11. Conference playoff games and the new four-team national playoffs are designed mostly as revenue producers, the largest amount coming from broadcast rights. Notre Dame’s national title team in 1973 played only 11 games, the season beginning Sept. 22 and ending with a Dec. 31 Sugar Bowl win against Alabama. Only four Irish games were on live television that year. Now, all Irish games are national broadcasts.

When it comes to the power of television and media hype, however, the National Football League makes colleges look like pikers. The NFL generates an estimated $10 billion a year in revenue, with $6 billion coming from the sale of television rights to Fox, NBC, CBS and ESPN. The broadcasters then hype their NFL connections year-round to convince audiences that the NFL is, indeed, essential to their lives.

The NFL doesn’t really need a marketing department. Networks, sports talk radio, local newspapers and television outlets do the bandwagoning for the NFL, which is constantly in the news. In addition to the 16 games each team plays, there is endless coverage of preseason practice, off-season personnel moves, player drafts, stadium renovations, and of course, hysteria over deflated footballs or whatever distraction comes along.

The league is now looking to extend its product further into the national consciousness. It recently created an executive position, hiring a Hollywood television producer to push the brand into non-game content. That could include NFL quiz shows and reality shows. He will also oversee entertainment programs around the Super Bowl, including the halftime show.

At some point, as most economists agree, oversupply can’t forever create its own demand. But for now, moderation is not a virtue for fans gorging themselves on television pigskin.

Jeffrey M. McCall is a professor of communication at DePauw University.