The National Football League is probably the most well liked and best run professional sports leagues in America right now.
While the MLB and NBA teams occasionally struggle to entice people to take an interest, the NFL has thrived in both television viewership and stadium attendance.
That said, while some may think that there’s no sense fixing a product that’s not broken, there are always some things that could be improved on.
For the NFL, one of the most glaring issues is the month-long period of meaningless exhibitions that proceed the regular season.
Is there even a legitimate purpose for the lengthy slate of glorified scrimmages? After several weeks of training camp, the idea that the players need these games to get their acts together before the season is just nonsense.
College athletes get no exhibition games and typically they’re at the top of their game by week two or three. The threat of injury in a game that has no real impact on the season would seem to outweigh any benefit that these games have.
So why should fans even care about these games?
It seems fair to say that nobody is really interested in what happens. There’s no ostensible connection between how a team fairs in the preseason to how they’ll perform when it actually means something so there’s no real reason to watch.
Personally, I don’t know anybody who gets terribly worked up about preseason football. I would guess that goes for most people, because the preseason period is unbearably long and offers no real reason to take an interest.
It’s hard to imagine how even the most diehard NFL fan could get worked up over such a seemingly pointless precursor to the real season.
One of the things that make people take an interest in sports is a good storyline. Obviously the hitting and the amazing skill on display each week is a big part of the draw, but it’s not truly what entices people to really connect to a team.
That’s why when a team loses that game that officially dashes their playoff dreams, the season suddenly seems a lot less interesting. The storyline effectively ends in the most anticlimactic way imaginable. It takes all the spice out of the remaining weeks, like having a friend telling you the ending of some dramatic film.
After all, what’s the best way to absolutely kill a story?
Make it predictable.
We’re drawn in by the unexpected, by the Cinderellas who come out of nowhere to win their division and force preseason prognosticators and to eat their words. As fun as it is to cheer for a great team (as any fair-weather fan can tell you), the most memorable games are the ones that you never thought your team could win until that glorious moment when the clock struck zero and they were still ahead.
The NFL preseason has no interesting storylines, because winning or losing in the preseason has absolutely no impact anything that happens when it ends. The only way it can possibly influence the season is if a would-be contributor gets his year abruptly ended by an injury.
With no reason to play the games and no reason for the fans to take a serious interest, the NFL should strongly consider fixing this blatant waste of time. For financial purposes, the league could probably add one or two regular season game to each team’s schedule and recoup the losses they would take by eliminating the whole preseason slate.
Despite the growing concerns that adding additional games to the regular season would be too much, I don’t think many football fans would feel that way if they didn’t have a month of meaningless football bogging down their interest every year.
After all, football is by far the most popular sport in America today. If you give fans a reason to care about it, then their interest won’t fade.