Sunday, March 18, 2007

Unholy Union: AFL and ESPN

In case you didn't know, ESPN bought part of the AFL in order to leverage its Monday Night Football package. I think this was ultimately a bad idea on their part. See, ESPN is afraid that the NFL is going to build up the NFL Network to be a competitor against them, and ultimately they want to build up a competitor to the NFL.

So they picked the AFL, which they describe as a "fun, high-scoring product" in an interview with USAA. If you go to the AFL webiste, you can find a copy of their mission statement, which just oozes fun and high scores from it:

“To serve our community with pride and passion as a quality example of individual and team excellence on the field, in the office, at the arena and within the community by consistently exceeding our customers’ expectations by demonstrating the highest character, appreciation and respect for our game, customers, teammates and partners as a cost-effective and visionary organization providing a total entertainment experience.”

What gets my heart pumping is the stuff about being cost-effective and visionary, with a total entertainment experience. Does that mean there's a chance that I might get to play in the game? I think 'A Fan as QB' night would certainly fulfill all three of those parts of the mission!

Seriously, that reads like the worst of the stuff you see from corporations today, a vanilla blend of buzzword BS that doesn't mean anything and nobody can remember. If the AFL were serious, their mission statement would be something like this: "To knock the NFL on its butt and take over the football universe." It's short and to the point.

Now, over on, they continue the program of degrading the NFL that they began with Playmakers. You can read a list of the best commissioners (prompted by the passing of Bowie Kuhn) on Page 2, where they complain that "steroids are a real problem, Super Bowl has become an abhorrent sideshow, rampant franchise movement..." when discussing Paul Tagliabue. They also sneak in that Pete Rozelle "stole revenue-sharing idea from AFL" to pimp their own product.

I don't deny that steroids are a problem in pro sports, but they're a problem in all of them. If the Super Bowl is an abhorrent sideshow, why are we clamoring for the same system in college football? And I don't know that I'd characterize the franchise movements as 'rampant', and since they didn't water down the final product on the field (like baseball and hockey have done) I think I can forgive them the moves that did occur.

Nothing good for anyone will come of the merger between the AFL and ESPN. What they don't seem to realize is that there are two professional football leagues in the US (NFL and NCAA); Arena represents a third. It's possible they'll be a niche, but in the meantime ESPN gives the NFL more and more reasons to build up a broadcasting competitor. And once ESPN begins to lose its stranglehold on sports information, they'll begin to crumble.

Don't believe me? Just ask Time-Warner how it's faring in the CNN-Fox battle. Once forced to compete, most former monopolies find themselves at a distinct disadvantage to their newer rivals.

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