NFL continues to enjoy good times as play-off ratings rise
The league seems to always side-step potential crises as a risky lawsuit disappears and even cold weather works to its advantage
Play-off ratings are soaring, the messy concussion lawsuit is all but over, and the only thing the NFL really has to worry about now is keeping a bunch of corporate bigwigs warm at the Super Bowl.
Actually, there isn't much worry. The NFL will escape again because, well, it is the NFL and things always end up rosy.
A suit over brain damage that once threatened the very future of the league? About to vanish, assuming a judge who pushed for the US$765 million settlement signs off as expected on the final terms.
Cold weather at the Super Bowl? Hey, if fans in Green Bay can party in sub-zero wind chills, nothing the weather throws at the Meadowlands next month will be much worse.
If there ever was a bulletproof sport in America it's football. And if there was ever a bulletproof sports league in the country, it's the NFL.
That was evident over the weekend when millions of fans across the country tuned in from the warmth of their living rooms as the NFL play-offs kicked off with a thrilling comeback by the Indianapolis Colts to beat the Kansas City Chiefs. By the time a last-second field goal won it on Sunday for San Francisco in frigid Green Bay, the wild-card weekend was the most-watched ever with an average of 34.7 million viewers.
And it came into more focus on Tuesday when attorneys for former players claiming brain damage from concussions could barely contain their delight over a motion for preliminary approval in federal court that could pay up to US$5 million apiece for those who are the worst off.
With good reason. In addition to the US$765 million award to former players, attorneys for the plaintiffs will likely end up sharing a whopping US$112 million for a case that was still years away from being litigated in court.
"We believe this agreement of US$112 million is well within realm of fair," said co-lead attorney Christopher Seeger.
The attorneys aren't the only ones happy over the settlement. NFL owners have to be ecstatic over getting rid of a suit that could have threatened the league for many years.
For the price of little more than a franchise player a team, the NFL protected its reputation and the US$9 billion a year the league takes in - a figure that will only continue to rise with ever-increasing television rights fees.
That doesn't mean the concussion debate is over. Not when players can still opt out and sue on their own - something Seeger doesn't see many doing - and not when three Chiefs were knocked out of their play-off game against the Colts with hits to the head. But the biggest challenge to the league has been dodged, at least for now, and at relatively little cost to each team.
Compared to that, the prospect of a little cold and snow at the Super Bowl is nothing more than a minor blip on the radar. Commissioner Roger Goodell has gone so far as to embrace it, noting that the infamous Ice Bowl game in 1967 at Lambeau Field is one of the more memorable in NFL history.
That could change if there's a storm system like the one that paralysed a good part of the country this week with temperatures not seen in decades. But while a big storm could cause big issues with getting fans in and out of the stadium, the game will almost surely be played at 6:30pm on February 2 and the 100 million or so people watching at home won't care how cold it is or how much snow is falling.
Besides, if the forecasting company AccuWeather is correct in its long-range prediction there's little chance of any storm, with a high of 7 degrees Celsius on Super Bowl Sunday. Not quite South Florida weather, but warm enough for NFL owners who showed their appreciation for the new stadium at the Meadowlands by awarding the New York City area the first outdoor game at a cold-weather site.
That's the luck of the NFL, and the league's luck has been good for a long, long time. That's especially true in recent times when Bountygate barely caused a raised eyebrow for anyone outside New Orleans, a Super Bowl power outage only made the game more interesting, and the issue of bullying in the locker room quickly came and went.
Goodell has his critics, and some of his moves are heavy-handed. But he's helped resolve the biggest threat to the NFL, and he has a sweetheart labour deal in place for most of the next decade with huge increases in TV rights.
Those bigwigs at the Super Bowl? Something tells me the commissioner will find a way to make sure they stay warm.