The National Football League is not just the most popular sport in America, but the most successful, most watched television series in the country. Every weekend in the fall the NFL rules the television world, garnering huge ratings numbers no one else in the industry can reach. The Super Bowl is now watched by over 100 million viewers while Sunday Night Football is the most watched primetime series in America, besting the likes of American Idol and others. While the NFL is at the top of the television mountain for the moment, what will it look like in the next generation? How will football coverage change? Who will be the major TV personalities that enter our homes every week? Will the NFL expand into non-traditional avenues to bring fans live games?
These are just a few of the questions we asked our expert panel as part of Bloguin’s Football in 2030 series. Already Crystal Ball Run has examined college football in 2030 and This Given Sunday has taken a close look at the state of pro football in 2030. To finish the series, it’s our turn to envision what football coverage will hold in the future.
AA spoke to a diverse panel of media writers, on-air personalities, journalists, and former players to predict how the NFL will change in the media landscape of 2030. Here’s Part II of our discussion and Part V of the overall series. You can view Part I here. Make sure to check out all the links to the previous chapters at Crystal Ball Run and This Given Sunday below our roundtable.
Chris Burke - NFL writer, Sports Illustrated
Richard Deitsch - Media writer, Sports Illustrated and The MMQB
Mike Freeman - Lead NFL writer, Bleacher Report
Brad Gagnon - Managing Editor, This Given Sunday; lead NFC East blogger, Bleacher Report; AA staff member
Ben Koo - GM, Awful Announcing
Andrea Kremer - Reporter, NFL Network
Curt Menefee - Host, Fox NFL Sunday
Trey Wingo - Host, ESPN NFL Live
Damien Woody - ESPN NFL analyst, NFL Pro Bowler
Matt Yoder - Managing Edtior, Awful Announcing
8) Are any women calling NFL games on television or radio?
Burke: Not as a play-by-play announcer, but possibly as a color commentator — Doris Burke’s work in the NBA has at least opened the door. The NFL is slower than just about any other sport to really embrace drastic change, and this would constitute one. Plus, right now there simply is not a female football announcer storming the ranks.
Freeman: Sports journalism is still a misogynistic, anti-woman profession but I do think one will break through by then. But it will be tough. Many of the people doing the hiring in our business are small minded little boys who only want a pair of pretty breasts on screen doing anything but calling a game. They fear strong, intelligent women in that position of power. If there isn’t a woman calling NFL games by then, we should all be ashamed of ourselves. If Hillary is president before we have a woman calling NFL games, that’s a sad state, and we should just all shoot ourselves in the face.
Gagnon: Nope. Sadly, I don’t think the NFL has gotten to that point.
Kremer: This is a wishful thinking question. I must say yes, but it will be because she has paid her dues, worked her way up the broadcasting ranks and not because of her gender. And here’s something to ponder – maybe the woman had playing experience in a women’s only football league.
Menefee: There will be women that have been calling nfl games for more than a decade by 2030.
Wingo: I can’t imagine they won’t be. The largest growing part of the NFL fan demographic has been women over the last few years.
Woody: Yes, definitely. By then, women will be doing both. By 2030, we could possibly have a woman call a Super Bowl.
Yoder: 2030 seems like a long ways away, but in reality it’s only 17 years away and it’s hard to see a woman calling an NFL game in that timeframe. We’ve already seen Doris Burke do great work in the NBA, but due to the realities of its hardcore fanbase, pro football will be the last sport to progress to a point where women are calling games. The truth is that the fraternity of NFL announcers is the most exclusive in all of sports and the mentality that allows announcers to hold jobs years past their prime makes any kind of forward thinking almost impossible.
9) What’s the best innovation in game coverage in the last ten years, from 2020-2030?
Deitsch: Live audio on every player so we can hear what everyone is saying during the game.
Freeman: Body vitals of players being displayed on screen. “The heart rate of quarterback James Winston brought to you by Budweiser.”
Gagnon: Microchips and lasers! No more human error on calls and no more long breaks for reviews. Technology continues to take over.
Koo: The best innovation in game coverage is the ability to select previous highlights and stat lines as well as the All 22 views in game from your remote. Sure it’s a little money, but it’s pretty sweet.
Kremer: Tiny go pro-esque cameras on helmets for the ultimate point of view shots and a chip in the football that gives you exact placement information including whether the plane of the goalline has been broken. No more need to bring out the chains for first downs.
Menefee: The ability to use your remote to zoom in/out, and spin 360 degrees around any camera angle to create the picture that you want to see.
Wingo: The ability to digitize games and manipulate the perspective of the cameras. In other words, taking a shot from a sideline camera, and using ESPN Axis or whatever every other network calls it to turn the digitized pictures into the best possible angle to give everyone the best look at every single play.
Woody: A point of view camera that players wear to offer the perspective of what it’s like to play. Fans want to be as close as possible to the action. With the help of technology, fans can pick and choose the player they want to watch on any given play.
Yoder: A camera inside the helmet that allows you to see the play from the perspective of any player on the field. If NASCAR can have in-car cameras, why not in-helmet cameras in the NFL? Additionally, fans will be able to select from a multitude of camera angles by the click of a remote.
10) Can fans order games a la carte on their television regardless of their provider? Can they do so on their computer, phone, or television or does watching games still require you to have the right provider?
Burke: If Roger Goodell (and whoever replaces him down the line) stays set on expanding the “brand”, continuing to limit viewing options would be foolish. It may not wind up a flawless transition, but I’d guess by 2030 that the NFL has something in place that resembles NBA League Pass or MLB Extra Innings.
Deitsch: I could see an a la carte option being offered to mobile subscribers, yes.
Freeman: Hell yes. It will be one of the best things about watching the sport.
Gagnon: No chance. Everyone will have access to everything. You might only need the right hologram provider for hologram footage of the games. Kidding, I think.
Koo: All pro leagues and colleges have figured out to monetize individual games on all platforms. It’s not economically that efficient to do so, but if you’re in a pinch, what’s $15.99 for a football game?
Kremer: You can have whatever games you are willing to pay for and whatever personalized experience, including practically directing your own game with camera angles.
Wingo: There will be some leeway there, but remember: the provider pays enormous fees for one reason and one reason only: inventory. They want the product that everyone wants to consume. If that product is available a million different ways, the value of that product will diminish.
Yoder: If the NFL can make money off of it, they’ll do it.
11) Is talking about spreads and Vegas odds still taboo on television during the games?
Burke: No. I think we’re already trending in that direction, be it with subtle Brent Musberger references or general discussion of lines. Whether or not betting on sports is legal outside of Vegas at this point, I’m not sure. But if there’s one thing we know, it’s that the NFL will go where the money is — and NFL fans have an increasingly ravenous appetite for this aspect of the sport.
Freeman: It won’t be. Networks will use point spreads as another revenue stream.
Gagnon: As I mentioned earlier, I think the NFL will start to realize that it’s losing out on too many opportunities here. In 2030, the league has closed much of the gap between it and the gambling world, simply because that stigma was already fading early in the century. It’s too mainstream to be ignored.
Koo: While not encouraged, the legalization of online sports gambling and rise of daily fantasy games has forced the NFL’s hand here. There are some unspoken rules on how, who, and when odds and spreads can be discussed, but it’s no longer the elephant in the room.
Menefee: Would it surprise you if sports gambling was legal in all states by then? It wouldn’t surprise me. All of the major sports leagues may be against this trend, but everyone was against state lotteries at some point, and look at what happened with that. As State governments look for more and more sources of revenue to handle budgets that are struggling to come remotely close to being balanced, this additional source of tax money won’t continue to be overlooked
Wingo: It’s not nearly as taboo as it has been in recent years. Listen to what Peyton Manning was saying about disclosing info on his “ lower body” injury this season. Everybody knows what’s in play, and I think that will continue going forward
Woody: I don’t think the NFL will change from this perspective. It will still continue to uphold a certain image.
Yoder: Maybe not “taboo,” but maybe not out in the open either. I can see a few more veiled gambling references in the vein of pioneers in the field like Brent Musburger and Al Michaels. I could see mainstream sports networks developing gambling shows for studio programming, though.
12) How will the quality of games be for Thursday, Sunday, and Monday Night Football compared to now?
Burke: I doubt Sunday/Monday night games will change all that drastically, from a quality standpoint. However, I could see the NFL taking steps to improve its dismal Thursday product, starting with trying to give teams byes the week prior to a Thursday night game when possible.
Deitsch: I’ll predict there will no longer be Thursday games but Saturday night might come back. Sunday remains the biggest game day and the Sunday Night game remains the showcase game of the week.
Freeman: Thursday games will still be quite shitty. They have to be. The human body just can’t take that kind of abuse so soon after a game. I also think we’ll having Saturday night games and they will be uber-shitty.
Gagnon: None are going anywhere, that’s for sure. In fact, in 2030, the NFL has added an extra Sunday nighter and Monday nighter. SNF games are at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET and it’s the same deal Monday night. Thursday games continue to suck, but the league places more emphasis on ensuring that teams competing on Thursdays are almost always coming off bye weeks. There are also eight Sunday morning games per year from London, England. Someone buys the rights for an 8 a.m. ET kickoff to go up against soccer and cartoons.
Koo: Thursday Night Football continues to be pretty lackluster in terms of matchups. Sunday Night Football has reverted back to being modest in terms of quality and has actually shifted back onto cable. The NFL realized that the country had a bit of football malaise after a full day and that AMC and HBO were providing worthy competition. The NFL finally stopped punishing ESPN for not buying half of the NFL network and decided to make it the premium package of games with flex scheduling. Life is good. Really really good!
Kremer: Considering there are 36 teams, ranging from Los Angeles to London, and two bye weeks a season, there is plenty of quality to spread around.
Wingo: The biggest detriment to the quality of play will be the restrictions in the CBA. If you can’t practice as much, especially with contact, the quality will go down. The upside here is that less contact during the week just might prolong some careers.
Woody: The quality will be lot better because of medical and training advancements. Players will be able to recover so much faster, and that will allow them to prepare for these games and recover that much more.
Yoder: The NFL’s continued reign over American television will grow with a “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”-esque expansion across television. If they could, the league would be on TV every night. Not only is there still a Thursday Night package split between NFL Network and Fox, but a Wednesday Night package for Turner Sports. To alleviate the burden on players, an extra bye week is added so teams playing on Wednesdays and Thursdays will be able to gain the extra rest they desperately need to increase midweek game quality.
13) Is Hard Knocks still on television? Is there an in season version of Hard Knocks?
Burke: No, though the amount of access teams have to give to the NFL and its broadcast partners will continue to grow exponentially. I think Hard Knocks already is running into the main issue that will derail it entirely at some point: Teams don’t really want to be on it.
Deitsch: Hard Knocks is not on television but you can pay each team a season subscription to get a Hard Knocks experience on a daily basis.
Freeman: There will be something like Hard Knocks but it will feature a handful of players wearing Google Glass. We’ll watch them train, practice, go to meetings, make out with girlfriends and mistresses all while they wear Google Glass.
Gagnon: The in-season thing has been attempted, but it’s not intriguing enough. The training camp version keeps rolling on.
Koo: Hard Knocks is still on television and it’s glorious. The in season version of Hard Knocks is potentially better but unfortunately is aired after the season so as to not be a distraction or give too much away during the regular season. Liev Schreiber is on the ballot for the 2031 NFL HOF. He’s got my vote.
Kremer: Cameras are omnipresent 24/7. Big Brother meets the NFL.
Menefee: A year round version of Hard Knocks will be broadcast in each NFL market featuring the local team. With the proliferation of regional sports networks, the rise of each team’s in-house productions unit, and the eternal thirst for NFL programming, I fully expect every team to do their own version on a 12-month basis.
Wingo: Considering Jerry Jones has already gone on record as saying he’d love to do an in-season hard knocks, I’m sure it will happen. This will continue to press the divide between coaches — who don’t want every part of the business out there for everyone to see — against owners who want to continue to push the envelope and maximize eyeballs and dollars.
Woody: Yes, Hard Knocks is fascinating TV. There will be an in-season version so you can watch a team from training camp through season’s end. That will be compelling all-access TV.
14) Who are 3 current players who have transitioned well to being a broadcaster?
Burke: Nate Burleson’s an easy choice for me, given how well he has performed in his offseason cameo appearances on the NFL Network. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees transition well, if they want to pursue that line of work. Both are popular players with experience in front of the camera.
Deitsch: Ryan Clark, Peyton Manning, and Russell Wilson.
Freeman: Tim Tebow, Maurice Jones-Drew, Andrew Luck.
Gagnon: Richard Sherman has become a media force in 2030, but that doesn’t mean he’s a good broadcaster. Greg Jennings, Peyton Manning and Arian Foster have become the best in the business.
Koo: Drew Brees is a guy that has really done well transitioning to the booth as the analyst for Monday Night Football. Troy Polamalu is a pleasant surprise and is hardly recognizable without his hair as you may remember as a studio analyst. Russell Wilson is a bit rigid at times but has done a wonderful job replacing the recently retired Ron Jaworski as the default x’s and o’s guy.
Kremer: Peyton Manning (every ballot will have him I would think!), Drew Brees, Tony Gonzalez
Menefee: No question in my mind that Aaron Rodgers will be a #1 game analyst for a network and Peyton Manning will be in a network studio. Both doing extremely well. Richard Sherman’s mix of Compton street attitude and Stanford smarts will be perfect for television, too.
Wingo: Here are four: Tony Romo, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman.
Yoder: Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Richard Sherman.
FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART I: THE STATE OF THE NCAA (CRYSTAL BALL RUN)
FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART II: CONFERENCE REALIGNMENT AND OTHER CHANGES IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL (CRYSTAL BALL RUN)
FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART III: THE STATE OF THE NFL (THIS GIVEN SUNDAY)
FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART IV: HOW THE NFL GAME HAS CHANGED (THIS GIVEN SUNDAY)
FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART V: HOW FOOTBALL IS COVERED IN 2030 (AWFUL ANNOUNCING)