National Football League
Tradition is costing NFL, players money
National Football League

Tradition is costing NFL, players money

Published Nov. 24, 2010 12:00 a.m. ET

Why should the lowly Detroit Lions automatically be given an annual Thanksgiving Day home game?

The NFL Players Association should be asking this very question during labor talks with the NFL.

For the union, the main concern wouldn’t be the X's and O's from Detroit’s perpetually dreadful team.

It’s all about the $$$.


Under terms of the current collective-bargaining agreement, the NFL has the legal obligation to try to maximize revenue that is split between the league and NFLPA. Such responsibility includes booking teams in “showcase” games that will theoretically draw the strongest ratings and help increase the overall value of the league’s television package to its network partners.

The Lions, a 2-8 franchise already assured of its 11th consecutive season without a playoff appearance, don’t fit that bill.

When the NFL schedule is announced each spring, most prime-time games are given to teams based on their performance from the previous season. If the matchups were irrelevant, NBC wouldn’t have a “flex” option in its contract that allows the network to switch late-season Sunday night games to a more attractive option.

The last time Detroit got booked for a prime-time appearance was October 2001. Besides all the losing — the Lions are 44-126 since 2000 —- the club hasn’t even had a marquee player who could warrant such exposure since Barry Sanders in the 1990s.

The NFL can justify having the Dallas Cowboys host an annual Thanksgiving game. Not only are they generally competitive, the Cowboys are a monster ratings draw whether winning or losing.

Detroit has dropped six straight Thanksgiving games by an average of 23.2 points. The best thing the Lions have done lately is allow disinterested NFL fans to begin feasting earlier in the day.

Detroit has hosted 71 Thanksgiving-day contests dating to 1934. Tradition is the only reason the city continues to land the game.

Such logic can no longer be justified when team owners are crying poverty and trying to reduce player salaries.

The NFL has recently thrown tradition out the window based on financial decisions. This was a major reason the 2010 Pro Bowl was played in South Florida rather than Hawaii, its previous home for 30 consecutive years. Even the Pro Football Hall of Fame preseason game is in danger of falling by the wayside after almost 50 years because of a proposed reduction to the NFL preseason.

The 2006 addition of a Thanksgiving night game along with the death that same year of Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, a longtime advocate of rotating the Thanksgiving contests, quieted much of the internal chatter for change. And even with the Lions playing, the average television rating for the Detroit and Dallas games usually matches or exceeds what the league draws on Sunday afternoons. The Detroit-New England game Thursday should also do well primarily because of the Patriots (8-2).

The audience, though, would grow even more if the early game were played between two popular teams in a fresh market. While NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and union chief DeMaurice Smith don’t see eye-to-eye on a litany of labor issues, they both can agree that more eyes watching translates to more dollars.

In today’s economic climate, the league and NFLPA can’t continue to give the Lions a free pass. It’s time to talk turkey about moving out of Motown until Detroit proves worthy of hosting the game with its on-field performance.


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