MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: The NFL season begins on Sept. 7. By that time, each team will have played four preseason games. Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis has already been hurt in one of them. Portis thinks the league should shorten the preseason. I asked David Carter of the USC Sports Business Institute to weigh in.
DAVID CARTER: I think it was interesting when Portis came out and suggested the preseason was a little bit too long. But you’re talking about the NFL juggernaut. You’re talking about this expansive preseason. It’s been wildly successful for them. The preseason is bigger than any one star or any one team, so there’s really no reason for the NFL to curtail this. I mean it, again, has become a cottage industry unto itself when you think of all the people that benefit from it, all the folks that are attached to to the industry that are making money off of it. And so, there’s really no reason to curtail it at this point. So, from a sports business perspective, it seems to be about right.
THOMAS: Hasn’t the NFL also extended that preseason back even a little further by starting games often in another country?
CARTER: I think it actually even predates the actual exhibitions themselves. To me the season has extended to start, really, with the April NFL draft. Because at that point it’s the fantasy leaguers that start to get involved, it’s the people that are following their teams that are looking for any tidbit of information. And so now the season extends, I think, even prior to preseason, from April all the way through to February when the Pro Bowl takes place. And again, there’s no real sign of fan fatigue so why should the NFL mitigate this length?
THOMAS: Does the league pull in a sizable amount of revenue from TV or other sources for the preseason schedule?
CARTER: Well, the league does. But also there are others that do as well. You’re seeing venues and cities around the country aggressively compete for the right to host training camps. And I think you’re seeing sponsors clamor for the chance to get in front of these rabid fans earlier and earlier each year to sell product and market their services. So, it’s not just the NFL. It’s those that are attached to the league in some fashion that are making money off the preseason as well.
THOMAS: You talked about the fantasy football fans. They’re obviously into this. How do they feed into the NFL mania?
CARTER: When you look at the demographic of those who are playing fantasy sports, they are vital to the NFL. They’re vital to all sports. Because of the amount of money they make. Just how into and closely they follow their respective leagues, they are really living vicariously through the NFL. And by extension, I think that helps the league. It helps the sponsors. It helps the networks. So again I think you have to add on top of this the sports media. The sports media knows that these fans have an insatiable appetite. So they want to not just tell them what the news might be but provide them with the kind of data and information that will help them with their fantasy sports as well.
THOMAS: Do you think that the injury to Portis has made other NFL players also feel like we should shorten the preseason a bit?
CARTER: Oh, I’m sure that’s the case. I mean, if you look at other sports around the country, other established leagues, their preseasons might not be as long. They may not be gaining the same kind of coverage domestically and abroad that the NFL is getting. But again, the NFL players, they now look at a minimum of 20 ballgames, if you exclude playoffs. And that is an awful lot. But again, they’re also benefitting tremendously from this. You had Matt Leinart, the former USC quarterback, sign earlier this week for Cardinals. A deal greater than $50 million. So, it strikes me that players want to have their cake and eat it too.
THOMAS: David Carter is the director of the USC Sports Business Institute.
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