The Case For The Preseason

Jeff RobbinsContributor IAugust 22, 2011

Nyjer Who?

Every August, no matter how many compelling stories exist or how heated the division races are, relevant, significant MLB games suddenly take a backseat to meaningless, inconsequential exhibition NFL games.

Think the drawn-out NFL lockout soured professional football fans? Think again.

The NFL Network reported a whopping 67% audience increase for its first national preseason game compared to 2011. FOX notched its highest-rated Friday night in seven months with a boring Buccaneers/Chiefs blowout.

And, in the most direct and obvious evidence of preseason football’s dominance over regular-season baseball, the August 15 premiere of ESPN’s Monday Night Football featuring the Jets and Texans earned the worldwide leader in sports nearly 4.7 million viewers. The night before, a Sunday Night Baseball game on ESPN, featuring at least one team in the postseason picture (the St. Louis Cardinals), earned the worldwide leader in sports only 1.8 million viewers.

(Worse than losing out to exhibition football? How about losing out to the vapid Keeping Up with the Kardashians, which, on the same August 14 night and on a weaker network, nearly doubled baseball’s audience with 3.16 million viewers. Baseball fans can take some solace in figuring everyone involved with the worst television program since Saved by the Bell: The College Years has already earned their own special place in Hell. Save for Bruce Jenner, who at least seems to have some level of contempt for the ridiculous family he married into.)

While on some level I sympathize with baseball purists who must tear their hair out over baseball’s inability to compete with exhibition football, on many other levels I understand it. In fact, in regards to preseason football, I have in recent years developed a “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude – just like I did in high school when many of my friends decided that Andrew Dice Clay was the messiah of comedy.

I’m guessing my appreciation of preseason football will last a little longer than my appreciation for the “Diceman” did.

So, in case you are among the uninitiated, here is my Case for Preseason Football:

1. Welcome Back, Football. We Missed You. Unlike baseball, basketball, and hockey, football is the only major sport that has an offseason longer than a rutabaga’s shelf life. Preseason football is watchable in large part because football goes away long enough for us to know it’s been gone. Hell, when the Packers beat the Steelers in February 2011, Charlie Sheen still worked for CBS. That’s how long the football offseason is.

2. What Else Is There To Watch? Yes, there’s baseball. And yes, there’s CBS’s Big Brother. And if you have subscribe to Netflix’s streaming service, you can watch any episode of Cheers (awesome) or iCarly (not as awesome) anytime you want. But most everything else is in reruns, unless of course, you really are one of those 3.16 million people who really have to keep up with Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe.

3. Fantasy Football Research I. If you play in a fantasy football league, the preseason can be an invaluable tool for preparing for your all-important draft, especially if you have an eye on a much-hyped rookie such as Mark Ingram or Julio Jones. Skilled fantasy players will know enough not to take rookies too soon, but checking out how potential stars look in the preseason can give owners a good idea on who and potentially when to draft one for upside potential. (Especially important for keeper or dynasty leagues.)

4. Fantasy Football Research II. Preseason football is also the best way for fantasy football owners to see how players coming off of injuries look as those players get the first chance to play real tackle football and take real hits for maybe the first time in months. I’m guessing that those owners thinking about targeting Ryan Grant or Jermichael Finley feel a little better after the first two preseason games. Those thinking of targeting Peyton Manning, of course, are out of luck.

5. Discovering New Talent. Packers fans know how good Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings are. What’s fun about watching preseason football is discovering new players that display possible breakout potential, like wide receivers Chastin West or receiver/kick returner Randall Cobb. Granted, often these players are matched up against second- or third-string defenses, but the players and their potential still become compelling stories that fans like to follow through on.

6.Feel-Good Time. Like to watch the Olympics because of the “up close and personal” profiles of the athletes? Preseason games often include more personal interviews and information on both veteran players and especially rookies. I remember specifically taking an immediate liking to Packers LB Desmond Bishop a couple of years ago not only because of his tough play, but because of a moving and funny interview he gave during a preseason game. Which made me feel even worse for him when he forgot his ID and couldn’t join his teammates at the White House to meet President Obama. (Still, how do you fly to Washington specifically for an honor as big as meeting the President and forget to bring ID? I could see leaving your Piggly Wiggly preferred card behind, but a photo ID?)

7. You Call Yourself An Assistant Coach? One of the lamer bumper stickers seen on Wisconsin roadways is one that reads:Assistant Coach Green Bay. But there is admittedly a kernel of truth to that sentiment. Most football fans like to make calls (or better yet, second-guess calls) while watching games, and in the preseason, with so many players fighting for roster spots, the exercise is even more enjoyable, as fans can argue which players should make the team and which are so lousy that we hope they get picked up by our closest rival.

As much as some may want grouse about it, preseason football isn’t going anywhere. It’s too profitable for team owners (look at how quickly the lockout was resolved when owners were faced with losing out on revenue generated by exhibition games), it’s too important for coaches and GMs in determining their opening –day roster, it’s too profitable for the media outlets that carry the games, and, as annually proven by the TV ratings, it’s all sorts of popular.

Preseason football, I’m with you. Don’t ever change. And don’t ever go away.

Now, the Kardashian sisters, on the other hand . . .