How to ruin a business

What’s going on in the NFL offers several object lessons

Ah, the NFL: Why are they trying so hard to go out of business? Ticket sales are down, and viewership is down, and they wonder why.

One common complaint is too many commercials. It seems there’s over a hundred in the average game. After just a few plays, there’s another barrage of commercials. As if that’s not enough, they even put ads on the screen during some of the action. It’s hard to watch the great play with all the distractions.

Going to the game doesn’t spare you, as they have all those commercial timeouts. You can be wet and freezing in the stands, and they repeatedly stop the action you paid to see to show commercials you don’t want. You have to have an awful lot of patience to watch one of these games.

I guess they have to sell all that advertising to pay those exorbitant salaries, but when the viewership goes down, so do the advertising revenues. Ad rates are based on audience size. The more people watching, the more expensive the ad.

The average game lasts a little over three hours, and for all that time, several organizations have tallied it up to only 11 minutes when the ball is actually in play. It seems the networks devote more time to replays than to plays.

Additionally, football as a game has been receiving bad press from the medical community. It’s a dangerous game with a lot of injuries. Some folks think it’s barbaric. Soccer is considered more civilized. Could it replace football?

And as if that wasn’t enough, some players are using the national anthem as an opportunity to protest. Colin Kaepernick, a former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, started kneeling during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
He lost his job. I would think that would be a signal to other players, but apparently not. The practice has spread like a virus.

On Sept. 24, Pittsburgh Steelers tackle and former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva was the only player on either team to stand for the national anthem. Prior to that, he was relatively unknown. The next day, his team jersey was outselling everyone else’s including Tom Brady’s.

One would think that would be a signal to other players. An awful lot of football fans are veterans and/or patriotic. Even if they aren’t, they might be turning on the game to escape the news, which is depressing regardless of which side of the aisle you’re on.

Do these athletes and franchise owners have a clue that fans are actually customers that need to be satisfied? Winning games is very important but making sure the fans will even care if you win is even more important.

Veterans, especially combat veterans, have an incredible love for that flag, as we all should. Many of them had buddies die in their arms. Others sustained injuries that will plague them the rest of their lives. Regardless of what grievances any of us may have, this is still the best country in the world, and if we’re such ingrates we can’t show our gratitude for that, we’re failing to please a very large portion of our customer base.

Our founding fathers risked “their lives, their liberty and their sacred honor” to gain our independence, and our right to protest. Those athletes certainly have the right to risk their livelihoods, although I wonder how many of them actually realize they’re doing just that. If ticket sales and viewership keep declining, so will the salaries. The weaker franchises will go out of business first.

To date, I’ve watched part of one quarter of a Patriots game. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and I was amazed at all the empty seats.

Have you ever heard of any other business owners allowing their employees to destroy their market share by protesting in front of customers on company time? I don’t think I know anyone who would allow that, nor have I ever heard of anyone that would.

Regardless of what we do, there are people, usually called customers, that we need to satisfy. We ignore them at our peril.

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or