Ratings Decline

Why wasn't the Super Bowl exciting?

Sbnation.com

The ratings for Super Bowl LIII have come in and they aren't what CBS and the NFL were hoping for. Even though nearly 100 million viewers tuned in for the big game, there was a roughly 5% drop from last year. The full ratings breakdown isn't available yet but even a small dip in the first set of numbers is something the NFL should take seriously.

As for me, I watched the game. Sort of. I had every intention of sitting down and enjoying every snap and every commercial break, including halftime. But when it came down to it, life got in the way. I wasn't invited to, or even aware of any Super Bowl parties amongst my friends. Even if there were, I'm not sure I would have felt compelled to rush through everything I needed to do this weekend just so I could go celebrate the biggest game of the season.

When I look at my social media and the local coverage leading up to the game, I get the sense I'm not the only one who was going to watch the game at home with family while I continued to go about my day. It's a far cry from when I was younger when it felt like the hype surrounding the game was bigger than the game itself. I'm sure bars were packed and there were still plenty of people hosting parties, but I got the sense it isn't like it used to be.

Right now, the NFL has some huge problems that affect how people view the game of football. So much so that there's probably some fatigue with it all. Concussions, protests, bad officiating, and even the Patriots; all these contribute to a lack of excitement that previously didn't exist on Super Bowl Sunday.

How many people decided not to tune in because once again it was Tom Brady and Bill Belichick? I would say that might have been the biggest factor. No matter who represented the NFC, I knew they would face a coach and quarterback combo that would out think them. Belichick knows how to plan for his opponents and in the Super Bowl it takes a great individual effort or a surprise play call that shifts the momentum away from his game plan. As cool as it is to be in the era of Tom Brady, we all know that the Patriots don't care about exciting football; only winning. I have too much to do to dedicate my time to a slow-moving chess match. I was right, there weren't any plays that will go down as all time highlights in the annals of the NFL.

How many people decided not to watch the Super Bowl because they were still upset that the New Orleans Saints got screwed out of an appearance by horrible officiating that changed the most likely outcome of the NFC Championship? The Rams chance to play for a title will always seem tainted by what happened at the end of that game and a conscious or subconscious lack of interest in the Rams probably permeated the mood a lot of fans had about the Super Bowl.

I know it did for me. I was less interested because I felt like someone not playing the game made such an egregious mistake that the outcome was not what it should have been. In my mind I have no doubt that the Saints were the team that belonged in the Super Bowl. As good as the Rams were all season, there is an asterisk next to them and I cared more about taking care of my home life than watching a team that shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Let's talk about commercials. Have they gotten so expensive that it is no longer worth it? Sure, there were still some great commercials that fit the idea of what a Super Bowl ad should be. Is it me, or have they become more political than years past? Are there fewer themed campaigns by companies that involve multiple different commercials that made you want to go watch all the variations later?

I saw that Bud Light kept it alive but overall, the humor and creativity seem to be in decline. That's something I noticed in previous years. I can't remember the last time I watched a Super Bowl and felt I had to stay glued to my seat because any one of the commercials was going to make me crack up laughing or be some cinematic experience condensed into 30 seconds.

Finally, what was up with that halftime show? I get it that the NFL wants to cater to a wide audience, but the performance of Maroon 5 was very bland and because of the need to fit in multiple pre-announced guest artists, the songs were a little rushed. Travis Scott's performance felt out of place and the pageantry of Big Boi should have been its own full show. I appreciate other artists contributing but it should be a surprise duet on a song of the headlining artist or something made to fit more smoothly into the performance. That entire halftime show could have been better and when the non-football fans are disappointed in one of the big reasons they watch, the second half numbers probably dropped off. That might even cause a ripple into next year's game.

When it's the biggest game of the season and the only one on, people are going to watch. But with everything happening in the NFL and in real life, sometimes people don't feel like Super Bowl Sunday is a de facto holiday anymore. If the Patriots fail to make it back next year and we see two new teams untainted by serious controversy, interest might return. If the halftime performance is one major artist with no special guests announced prior to the game, non-football fans might get more excited. But the way I see it, Roger Goodell and the rest of the braintrust in the NFL front offices have a lot to address when it comes to making fans want to fully dedicate themselves to the Super Bowl like they used to.

Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

In a sharp, sudden twist to this saga, the NFL and Colin Kaepernick's attorney announced that they had reached a settlement on his case on Friday. The NFL had backed down.

Make no mistake about it; this is surrender by the NFL, as shocking as it is sudden. The league that gave no quarter to its biggest star ever in Tom Brady, the league that showed it could bully its players in court vs. Ezekiel Elliott and neutered one of the then-most powerful owners in its group in Jerry Jones, just sat in the corner, and faced the wall while wearing the "Cone of Shame" for Colin Kaepernick.

Less than 24 hours after the Alliance of American Football (which desperately wants to be bought by the NFL) decided to leak what it felt was highly negative information about Kaepernick and his refusal to play in the AAF for less than $20M (which reportedly turned out to be completely false information on the monetary demand), the NFL reached a settlement with the man most known as the face of the social justice demonstrations during the anthem. For my money, that is far too much of a coincidence to be an actual coincidence.

Just take a minute to think about the significance of this decision by the NFL. For a long time, Kaepernick has held the position that if the NFL wanted him to withdraw the case, it would require a substantial amount of money. The league has always basically maintained the idea that Kaepernick can go to hell and there's no way he could beat them in an arbitration hearing or in court because the NFL with their army of high priced lawyers and unlimited funds doesn't lose.

The NFL could have reached an agreement with Tom Brady, but they refused. Despite spending some $5M on the Wells Report only to see it be incredibly flawed and debunked by both the American Enterprise Institute and an MIT professor, insisted on suspending Brady. They went to several court cases vs. Brady, including the US District Court & US Court of Appeals. Deflategate raged on for over a year over very shoddy evidence that the balls were even deflated, let alone connected to Brady. The NFL never backed down. They could have reduced Brady's suspension but they absolutely refused to give an inch.

The NFL also sent their investigators out onto Ezekiel Elliott, after an ex-girlfriend made accusations of domestic violence against him. After a year-long investigation, the NFL's lead investigator reported that she recommended no suspension for Elliott, as the woman in question lied on multiple occasions, admitted to lying on multiple occasions, had asked others to lie on her behalf (with an electronic chain of the requests) and was found to be generally unreliable. The NFL suspended him the maximum six games anyway. Again the league went to multiple court cases with Elliott, rather than reduce his suspension and put the matter behind them because they wanted to make an example of him, and that example was so important that no lessening of Elliott's suspension could be negotiated.

Now we come to Kaepernick's collusion grievance, one that came with a very high standard to prove. The NFL had mocked Kaepernick's accusations, decried he just wasn't a very good football player and that was why he didn't have a job (and they went on to hire dozens of QBs who were absolutely terrible, or had no experience, and were clearly inferior players to Kaepernick, which caused an uproar each and every time).

The NFL tried to bully Kaepernick with the arbitrator, Stephen Burbank, when in August 2018 they requested that the case be dismissed for lack of evidence. The arbitrator disagreed and allowed the case to move forward. Owners had to give depositions and some of those depositions were startling.

According to the Wall St Journal, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones deposition showed how the owners feared the President on the protest front, saying the President told him in a phone conversation that "This is a very winning, strong issue for me" and that Jones should "tell everybody, you can't win this one. This one lifts me." Further conversations with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and Patriots owner Bob Kraft further showed the league succumbed to its fear of the President in dealing with Kaepernick and the social justice demonstrations.

Owners felt emboldened by the stance of the President when it came to Kaepernick. Considering their previous actions vs Brady and Elliott, clearly the league thought it would garner a victory over Kaepernick.

Then Friday happened.

Why would a league that is so steadfast in their determination to demonstrate their power over players suddenly heel to a player who hasn't played in 2 years? Perhaps more importantly, why was the cloak of secrecy needed in relation to its agreement?

The NFL came to heel vs a player it clearly blackballed out of the league in flamboyant fashion. Why?

With the confidentiality agreement as part of the settlement, we may never know all the reasons the NFL pulled a 180 on Kaepernick's grievance, but certain things stand out as obvious identifiers.

For one, the confidentiality agreement keeps all the depositions and statements, all the evidence Kaepernick's attorney Mark Geragos has acquired in discovery and in his own investigations secret. We may never know just how grimy the league was in its dealings with Kaepernick. We may never see the 'smoking gun' Geragos claimed to have (although there have been reports of email exchanges among owners discussing blocking Kaepernick from getting a job in the NFL in evidence). The NFL clearly felt it was in their greater interest to keep all of that information private forever than to have it come out in court regardless of the arbitrator's decision on the matter. That speaks massive volumes.

Additionally, had Kaepernick been successful in his grievance, the NFL would have had another massive crisis on its hands, because a decision that the NFL had colluded vs a player would have rendered the league's current CBA null and void. It would have forced them back to the table in an environment where the players may have had an advantage at the table and in the realm of public opinion, one that could have resulted in the owners having to give concessions to the players for being found guilty of collusion. No CBA would mean a high likelihood of a work stoppage, and if the league had a lockout because it was grimy and colluded vs a player, violating the previous CBA, it would mean a lot of negativity for the league and its owners and support for players.

Clearly the league felt very threatened that it would lose the case vs Kaepernick to reach this level and fold its cards. While the settlement amount is undisclosed and part of the confidentiality agreement, reports have indicated it could be as high as $80M to Kaepernick (Thankfully the Green Bay Packers are a publically held entity and their financials have to be released, so we will see what the club had to contribute to the Kaepernick settlement and we will know the true value of it at that point if not sooner).

While the league admits to no wrongdoing as part of the settlement, the optics are very clear. If they weren't scared to death of being exposed, they would have continued the fight, just as they did vs Brady and Elliott, where they did have some losses in court before ultimately winning at the appellate level. That indicates this settlement may not have been about just winning and losing, but more about protecting the inner workings and secrecy of their actions, and the dirty laundry they've accumulated as a result.

That dirty laundry must be an incredible pile, because it's forced the league to do something it hasn't done before.

It forced the NFL to kneel down.

As much as the league wants to put this issue behind them, this moment will never be forgotten.

Patrick Creighton is heard locally in Houston as the host of "Late Hits" on ESPN Houston 97.5 weeknights 7-9p, and nationally as the host of "Straight Heat" on SB Nation Radio weekdays 9a-12p CT. Follow him on Twitter: @PCreighton1

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