D.A.: The NFL Has Finally Begun Its Market Correction

Changes to TNF, uniforms, and kickoff times may seem subtle, but the NFL is finally acknowledging vulnerability, DA says

Damon Amendolara
April 20, 2018 - 1:42 pm

USA Today Images

Took long enough, but North America's most powerful sports enterprise has finally swallowed a healthy dose of humility. A week in mid-April is not usually supposed to deliver a spade of structural changes for the NFL. This is usually the last of the mock draft silliness, a final round of endlessly nitpicking college athletes. But three very real changes were announced in the last few days, and all of them are worth noting. It could be the beginning of a sea change for the league. 

First, the Thursday Night schedule was unveiled, and the new quality of matchups was obvious. We had been conditioned to expect a lousy game each week, two middling teams on short rest, playing in dopey Color Rush uniforms. But this season we get Vikings-Rams, Eagles-Giants, Panthers-Steelers and Packers-Seahawks, all matchups any of the networks would fight over. Why the dramatic shift? This year FOX Sports spent enough money on the package to demand a better product. When the league created the Thursday slate years back, execs felt they could offer any type of football and the public would eat it up. They soon were humbled by becoming a national punchline each week. Fridays in the fall were reserved for griping about how bad (and ugly) last night's game was. FOX needed better teams, wanted to surround it with an identifiable broadcast team, and to kick the trashy uniforms to the curb. The league knew it had to make this work, because for the first time in their history the audience openly mocked the football being played. 

Second, the Titans, Jaguars, and Dolphins all released new uniform designs. Tennessee's kits had grown stale over twenty years in the Volunteer State, so a refresh was needed. But Jacksonville and Miami had just revamped their unis five years ago. Why the sudden rush to switch again? Because in '13, the league again believed it could do no wrong. The arrogance of the NFL led it into a dysfunctional relationship with Nike. The sneaker company paid $1.1 billion to outfit the league for only five years. With that outrageous money comes great influence. So Nike wanted to re-imagine every uniform, putting their personal stamp on the league's look. This led to a never-ending march of ugliness and schlock. Count Chocula collars, Color Rush puke, and what is widely considered the worst helmet in league history. There is a five-year rule on changing uniforms, but as soon as the clock struck '18, the Jags and Dolphins wanted out of their Nike-designed Halloween costumes. Strong rumors abound that the Browns and Bucs will do the same as soon as their window expires. The league didn't blink at bastardizing its brand by allowing fashionistas and sneaker people to pervert its traditional looks. The public would buy anything with the shield on it, right? Five years later, they are realizing they were wrong and are doing an about face abruptly. 

Finally, the league quietly announced start times for primetime games would be moved up. Sunday Night Football will kickoff at 8:20 p.m. ET instead of 8:30 p.m. Monday Nights will begin at 8:15 p.m. ET rather than 8:30 p.m. Thursday Night Football will start at 8:20 p.m. ET, not 8:25 p.m. These are only differences of five to ten minutes, but once again the harsh dose of reality has hit the league. Once upon a time the audience was taken for granted, but no longer. NFL television ratings had been unfailing for years. But recently we've seen the league susceptible to an erosion in audiences. Forcing fans on the East Coast to stay up until midnight for the end of games? The league always snickered. "They'll watch, because they always do." That mentality has changed. 

People assume massive league-wide changes happen as dramatically as a dropped mic, or a blazing headline popping on their phones. But usually the shifts happen with a series of subtle adjustments, which ultimately begin adding up to something bigger. This week was the perfect example of that. Taken in a vacuum, Thursday night games, uniforms, and kickoff times don't seem like much. But when strung together it highlights the retreat the NFL has taken on some of its previous directives, showing a league that's finally facing its own vulnerabilities. 

Damon Amendolara, known by his fans as D.A., hosts “The D.A. Show,” from 9:00AM-12:00PM, ET, across the country on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. “The D.A. Show” is known for its unique perspective on sports, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, colorful listener interaction, and candid interviews with athletes and coaches. Amendolara also appears regularly on NFL Network as part of the “NFL Top 10” documentary film series, CBS television and SNY TV. He is a Syracuse University grad and native of Warwick, N.Y.