The NFL is no longer delaying the inevitable.
That was my initial reaction upon seeing the news over the weekend from the Wall Street Journal that the NFL, for the first time, will allow television commercials for hard liquor during games.
Many probably didn't even realize or know that the NFL had a longstanding policy prohibiting hard alcohol from the network broadcasts for years because of the inordinate amount of beer ads that has been prevalent during every game for decades. Up until now, however, the NFL had drawn a line of distinction between beer and liquor.
So why the change?
"The answer is pretty simple," Frank Vuono, a partner at powerful sports marketing firm 16W told me, "The ratings last year were off and the NFL deals with all of the broadcast networks again in 2020. The networks have to make money, otherwise the money they pay the NFL won't continue to go up. The NFL is trying to figure out how they can make their TV partners happy."
It makes perfect sense in that context, especially when the logic behind excluding hard alcohol advertising is either outdated or dubious at best in the first place.
Plus, with Roger Goodell's stated goal of the NFL hitting $25 billion in revenue by the year 2027, the NFL is going to have to find new and different ways to continue to drive growth as television ratings continue to be affected by cord-cutters.
Hence my feeling that the NFL has begun the process of loosening restrictions in a lot of areas, because of evolved beliefs regarding certain formerly taboo topics, as well as the internal revenue pressure.
Some of the other restrictions in place regarding TV commercials during NFL games include any form of contraception, including condoms, energy drinks, supplements and supplement companies, gambling of any kind, and even tourism ads for Las Vegas.
I won't take the time to try to parse through the logic of having a litany of erectile dysfunction ads but not condom ads, or placing a team in Las Vegas but not allowing for ads related to tourism in Las Vegas, because that's not the point. Most reasonable minds believe all these types of commercials will be less taboo eventually, so if the NFL was smart it would jump at the chance to receive the financial windfall that would come along with these companies being able to advertise to a huge audience in a more mainstream fashion.
Why has the NFL been delaying the inevitable all these years?
"Roger Goodell talks about protecting the shield often. As such, they don't want to be out in front of anything that parents could be critical of. No matter what people say about the NFL, they really do take their job as a role model of sorts in America very seriously," said Vuono.
Given the precedent the NFL has set the past couple of years in terms of moving three teams from longstanding markets in the name of the almighty dollar, does anyone really think they are going to refrain from television commercials for energy drinks and supplements? Seriously?
The NFL worrying about the message being sent with seemingly harmless ads, while at the same time uprooting the Rams from middle America -- even though the city of St. Louis put together a very solid new stadium proposal -- seems especially incongruous.
That's why I say stop delaying the inevitable. Does anybody really think 20 years from now that NFL jerseys and uniforms won't have some sort of patch or advertising? I know I don't.
And that just might be the tip of the iceberg, according to Vuono.
"Gambling is the next big front. There have been restrictions on gambling advertising, yet teams can take money from casinos and have signage in the stadium."
The NFL wouldn't even consider playing a preseason game in Las Vegas a few years ago and now, despite many thinking it would never happen, Sin City is getting an NFL franchise. If that isn't an indication of either evolving values or the hunger for increased revenues among NFL owners or both, I don't know what is.
If such an evolution took place that quickly, how soon until there are online gaming ads and more on television? We already went through a 2015 season in which seemingly every other commercial was for daily fantasy and some legislators don't believe there's much of a difference, if any, between daily fantasy and gambling.
That's why the NFL is doing the smart thing by allowing hard liquor to advertise on television during their games. I can't imagine many people have a problem with that.