Super Bowl-champion Seahawks may offer a look at the future of NFL
By Alan Robinson
Published: Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, 10:33 p.m.
NEW YORK — Pete Carroll, obviously sleepless on his way back to Seattle, perhaps said it best: Get caught looking back in the NFL, and you'll never get ahead.
Especially in a sport that is changing so rapidly, becoming so warp-speed fast, is ever-evolving schematically and is being infused with more elite athletes every season.
“We really have an eye on what's coming and that we don't dwell on what just happened,” the coach of the new Super Bowl champion Seahawks said Monday, just minutes removed from an all-night celebratory party. “We'll be battling and competing. ... We've done that with foresight, with looking ahead so that we would be prepared.”
The Seahawks, with multi-dimensional quarterback Russell Wilson and a blindingly fast and physical defense, looked like a team out of the 2020s. The Broncos appeared so much slower and a tad bit intimidated during their 43-8 loss Sunday night that they probably should have worn the black high-top shoes of the 1960s.
So did Seattle usher the NFL into its next generation? And what might it look like? Some guesses what the NFL circa 2024 might be following a futuristic week of football in New York and New Jersey:
Defenses like Seattle's are catching up to the pass-every-30 seconds days of this NFL, so expect offenses to keep looking for an edge. Hybrid athletes with multiple skills will be much in demand. Not every quarterback will be like Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick — Fox analyst Troy Aikman said it's almost impossible to win a title with a QB who can't pass out of the pocket — but there are more coming. Next up: Johnny Manziel.
“He's gifted athletically and can throw the ball, and we're going to have more and more of those kinds of players playing this position,” Aikman said. “There's always going to be a spot for the pocket passer, but I do believe we're going to see more and more guys like Russell Wilson, like (Robert Griffin III) and others like that.”
The NFL has a symmetrical balance with 32 teams, 16 in each conference, four in each division. But Los Angeles (certainly by 2024) and London (possibly by then, but not much sooner) are coming. That means two franchises are likely to relocate, so NFL football already might be a distant memory in Jacksonville or St. Louis or Oakland. And the league likely will have eclipsed the $20 billion-a-year revenues barrier, or about what Ford makes now.
Roger Goodell wants 14-team playoffs, perhaps as early as 2014. But might there be 16-team playoffs in 10 years? Think how enticing an NCAA March madness Super Bowl tournament, like that during the 1982 strike season, would be for the fans — and those paying TV rights fees. A No. 8 seed could beat a No. 1, just like a No. 16 always dreams of beating a No. 1 in the NCAA tournament. It just might prove too irresistible.
The NFL's biggest challenge to keeping fans in the seats is how well the sport translates to TV. So which stadium will be the first to install TVs at every seat, allowing for replays — and ad sales — for every fan, plus ultra high-speed wireless for instant stat downloads and Twitter postings? And as luxury seat prices keep going up, teams will be blocking off 10,000 seats or so and cutting prices so the average fan still can experience games in person.
Every player will be required to personally interact with fans either via Twitter or whatever has replaced it. And each will have a social media manager. This interaction will be necessary to keep the game personal at a time when stadiums are becoming more and more the domain of the affluent.
Super Bowl tickets
Will have passed the $5,000-per-ticket barrier for premier seats and might even be at the $10,000 mark.
Every game will be available on every device possible.
Will the NFL have flirted with pay TV by now? Probably not. The lure of the mass audience is simply too great.
But that means TV rights fees will have accelerated again because the NBC, Fox and CBS deals of today will have expired two years before in 2022. And the NFL will be a pay TV sport, in essence, because viewers must pay their cable, satellite and online program providers a significant chunk every month just for the channels that carry the sport. (Even today, ESPN costs the average cable or satellite subscriber more than $6 per month.)
With ultra 4K TVs in every home, the sport will look even better. At least a dozen players will be miked every game, and viewers are likely to have the choice of multiple camera angles per play. (Want to watch the all-22 on every play? You'll have the choice.) The NFL Sunday Ticket probably won't be exclusive to DirecTV, which means almost every household will have the chance to buy it.
Friday night football
Not yet. Even the NFL realizes three nights a week of network games are nearing the saturation point. But look for some Friday and Monday playoff games, especially if that 16-team tournament evolves.
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