NFLPA’s DeMaurice Smith: Ignore Ratings Declines ‘At Your Own Peril’

DeMaurice Smith is not an overly popular figure among many as the executive director of the NFL Players Association, who is entering his 10th year in that role, and who was still somewhat wet behind the ears when he was tasked to helm his organization’s end at the negotiating table for the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2011.

As is the nature of the dynamic, Smith has often served as a counterweight to the NFL’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, who has presided over the most profitable period of the league’s history, as the brand remains one of the premiere programs in the broadcasting landscape.

That is nowhere more evident than in the fact that broadcasting rights continue to rise in value, as Fox recently acquired the rights to air Thursday Night Football at a price tag of somewhere between $550-650 million per season, which is a significant increase from the $450 million of the previous deal. The streaming rights are also expected to rise from last year’s $50 million deal with Amazon.

Still, Smith finds himself concerned with the television ratings. Not just of the ratings of NFL games—he acknowledges that comfortably more than half of the 50 most-watched broadcasts from the past year have been NFL games—but of a decline in ratings across the board.

Certainly, I recognize that we’re lucky that over 30 of the top 50 shows were NFL broadcasts”, he said during a recent interview. “But I think that you ignore at your own peril not so much just the decline in football, but the overall decline in ratings for most television shows and particularly sports broadcasts”.

Smith said that he hopes the NFLPA to have a greater voice in the league’s “macroeconomic” affairs, and to that end he has recently had meetings with the NFL’s broadcasting partners. He pointed to the NBA as a comparable organization that he described as having “fresher” programming that has a stronger growth rate.

“They do, I think, a great job of marketing their individual players, sometimes at a time when the [NFL] looks for ways to take their star players off the field”, he argued. “I would be interested in better understanding the relationship between the broadcast partners and the NBA, what that relationship is like, how they do their TV deals, their rights deals”.

This is largely transparent posturing during the build-up to the next round of CBA negotiations, which both sides have suggested could be discussed preliminarily at an earlier date. The NFLPA’s positioning itself to have a greater voice in things like public relations and broadcasting would only strengthen their negotiating power.

“We are at a point where we the union aren’t going to be this sort of silent other third party out there who’s not involved in the business of football from a stadium, media, Sunday, offseason standpoint”, he added. “We’re just not going to do it anymore”.

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