I often watch NFL games in spite of, not because of, the media coverage surrounding them.
Let's face it: In today's sports television scene, there are numerous trends that hamper coverage of the games. In contrast to surrounding the game with solid analysis and sober thought, networks ensconce today's contests in promos and talking heads.
The following is my list of helpful suggestions to improve the overall quality of game coverage (and why they probably won't be followed).
1. Stop Hiring Former Athletes Just for the Sake of Hiring Former Athletes
I think we can all understand why networks almost exclusively hire former players to serve as analysts and color commentator—former players are known to the public and have established fanbases.
However, being good on television is a talent unto itself. NFL players, no matter how successful their pro careers may have been, usually do not possess that talent. For every successful player-analyst (like Ron Jaworski), one can think of numerous disasters (Emmitt Smith's wholesale slaughter of the English language, for example).
Furthermore, does anyone watch the games (or even the pregame shows) to see their former heroes? (To be fair, trying to guess what Shannon Sharpe is saying is an excellent way to amuse oneself every Sunday afternoon.)
I'd rather networks hire people who are talented at talking and who know the game, and I suspect most fans feel that way as well.
2. A Pregame Show Does Not Need 19 Analysts
NBC's Sunday night crew is the prime example of this—why do they need Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Jerome Bettis, Bob Costas, Tiki Barber, and Peter King? Surely there's some overlap there.
I think that's the reason why NBC's show is the least watchable out there—there's no consistent voice to it, merely a cast of celebrities struggling for air time. How can so many people be expected to provide cogent analysis at halftime?
Of course, the networks' reasoning on this is simple and ties in to the above point: If one player brings in one fanbase, two players will bring in two fanbases. What we see now is that thinking taken to its logical extension can be problematic, and there's probably no way the networks will reverse themselves as long as the product (NFL games) sells so well.
(ESPN's Bill Simmons goes on an excellent rant on this topic here.)
3. Devote More Time to Actual Analysis of Games
It seems NFL coverage is divided into two categories—highlights and feature stories. What little time that is spent on actual analysis is usually gobbled up by obvious statements ("Tom Brady is a great quarterback") or contentions cynically designed to create controversy (think anything Skip Bayless has ever said or ever will say).
One thing I'd like to see examined more is the thinking that goes into the game. Why did the coach choose to run in that situation? Which coaches take the most chances, and why? How does equipment alter bad-weather games?
We get some of that, but it's only snippets—designed to fill space in the short lull between plays. If the color man forgets to mention (or fails to notice) something, it's forever lost. In a game where winning and losing are often separated by a single play, little things matter.
4. Try Hiring outside the Box
Sadly, the high-profile problems with Dennis Miller and Tony Kornheiser will likely prevent the networks from ever following this advice.
However, is it that bad to bring in different voices to speak about the game? The analyst pool seems disturbingly incestuous—old ones seem to pop up again and again, no matter what level of success they may have achieved.
New voices could stimulate viewers to think about the games from a different angle, which could never be a bad thing.
5. The Promos, Oh God, the Promos
Memo to CBS: I, like all American males under 93 years of age, do not watch 60 Minutes. I do not particularly care what Andy Rooney is complaining about this time. The only thing you've shown in the past four years that I considered watching was that feature on LeBron James (and then I realized the promo gave away the best part—the three-quarters-court, underhanded shot).
So, could you limit yourself to five reminders that 60 Minutes is, in fact, coming up next (except on the West Coast)? Thanks.
As a matter of fact, I think there needs to be some level of coordination for commercials in general. Too often, the same commercials are repeated ad nauseam, leading me to swear never to buy the products advertised. (Want to send a NFL viewer into fits of rage? Three words: "Saved by Ze-rrrroooo!")
That's it. Five simple ways to improve NFL coverage exponentially.