I’m not a big fan of the NFL. Or as they love to call it, the National Football League. There are plenty of reasons why:
1. My wife’s family has indoctrinated me quite effectively to love College Football. Hence, fall Saturdays are spent watching Ohio State, Penn State, and many of the other marquee match-ups that are available across several channels on TV. We even end up watching something like last night’s clash between San Jose State and Louisiana Tech, just for the heck of it. The point here is simple: we spent all of Saturday watching football…and we’re supposed to spend Sunday doing the same thing?
2. Unlike College Football, where you can reasonably expect to see almost every big game every week if you have the sports package on your cable subscription, the NFL will only give you about a third of their games, unless you switch to DirecTV and pay for the additional Sunday Ticket package to watch all the NFL games. One of the few games you’ll see will involve your local team, or whatever team is closest to where you live. Because of this, you end up missing a lot of big games, and if your local team stinks, one significant portion of your pro football coverage will suck.
3. NFL games are long. So very long. They never end. There’s a ton of stoppage in play, there are endless commercials and time outs, and you almost feel forced to look at your laptop and start doing something else. Plus, you only get one other game to switch to, so it’s not like you have a ton of options when you’re being assaulted with endless promos of bad beer and huge pickup trucks.
4. I’m a born contrarian, and since everybody and their mother seems to love the NFL, I naturally feel some sort of aversion towards it.
I could go on and on. But I’ll tell you something about the NFL that I really like. No, that’s an understatement: there is something about the NFL that I absolutely love: the NFL Red Zone channel.
What is this channel? A simple, beautiful idea. Here’s how it works:
Except for two games (one on Thursday night, one on Monday night), the NFL takes over Sundays in the United States. There’s a big slate of games starting at 1 pm Eastern Time, and another at 4:30 pm ET. Lastly, there’s a single Sunday night game. This means that you have a ton of games going on at the same time between 1 pm and around 8:00 pm every Sunday. The problem is, you only get a maximum of two 1 pm games, and a max of two 4:30 pm games unless you’re a DirecTV customer. So, you’re missing a ton of action, particularly if the games you are assigned for both afternoon slots are bad games.
This is where the Red Zone channel comes in. The premise is simple: the channel will show you every single scoring opportunity that takes place when the a team enters the other teams last 20 yards. There are no blackouts: you will see every single score that takes place in an afternoon NFL game, no matter where you live, so long as you have this channel on your sports package (something that sounds a lot easier than it actually is – but that’s another story).
And it gets better: there are no commercials! NONE! You are fed seven straight hours of pure football action. Who is your guide? A man named Scott Hanson. If you follow that link, you’ll read about how fascinating the guy is. On screen, Hanson is unbelievable. He never takes a break, and always seems genuinely excited to take you from one game to another. Because of how hectic things can be, he frequently has to do the play-by-play of something that already happened so you can jump right in to live action with whoever is actually calling the game. He also fills you in on the context of whatever red zone drive you’re watching. As I type this, Hanson excitedly went to a clinching field goal in the Miami-Seattle game, to a third down play in the Indianapolis-Buffalo game, to a key turnover in the Pittsburgh-Cleveland game, to the last play of the Kansas City-Denver game. All in a span of a couple of minutes, with no hiccups and no missed action.
Again: no commercials. No annoying studio chatter. Just football. Isn’t this such a beautiful, simple idea?
Why can’t other sports have something like this? Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a special channel to serve this particular function for tennis during the Grand Slams? It could run through the first week, or until the quarterfinals. With so many matches going on, they could zoom you to a key 15-40 point, a tiebreaker, set points, and naturally, fifth sets. How great would it be to have that channel on during a hectic day at the US Open?
We know what we get as American tennis customers: ESPN doing their thing with a bloated studio lineup and loads of commercials, with the Tennis Channel doing a low budget version of the same thing. DirecTV lets you switch between a significant number of TV courts during Grand Slams…but again, you have to go and get DirecTV. Online, subscribers who get ESPN3 (a.k.a WatchESPN) can switch between many TV courts. But in either of these cases, the onus is on the viewer to do the switching, and you have to resign yourself to the fact that you will miss something important at some point.
Compare that to the relaxing experience that you get when you tune in to the Red Zone channel, where you don’t have to do a thing, and you’re seamlessly transported to every meaningful event that’s taking place around the league. The key element in this relationship between channel and viewer is trust: as a viewer, you know you won’t miss a thing, because the people behind the Red Zone channel will do their jobs and Scott Hanson will deliver.
On the other hand, whenever we tune in to ESPN2’s coverage of any given Grand Slam, one can’t relax and let them carry you through the day. Twitter will be going ballistic when someone is in a tense fifth set, but ESPN2’s cameras will be showing Federer or Serena dropping baked goods on some unfortunate qualifier. Or worse, you’ll be subjected to the studio personnel chatting up a storyline you’ve already read about 50 different times while there’s plenty of live action to show. And of course, you get the commercials.
Nobody associated with tennis seems to think that there is value in just showing the sport without any interruptions. Just tennis, all the time. Worst of all, nobody seems intent on building this relationship of trust between a channel and a viewer.
The NFL did see the value of giving their customers something like the Red Zone channel, and attracted a casual fan like me in the process. In related news, the NFL is insanely popular.
Can we dream of tennis learning from the NFL?