Cutting The Cord: Am I Ready For Some Football Yet?

New starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has San Francisco 49ers fans excited. Photo courtesy of 49ers.com, the team’s official website.

Unless my viewing habits change between now and next weekend, 2017 will go down as the first year I failed to watch at least one regular season NFL game in its entirety since I was a small child. That’s because eight months ago, I “cut the cord” and cancelled my satellite television contract, figuring I’d watch the games online for free.

I figured wrong, as usual. Nothing in life is free, particularly live NFL games. This hard fact was recently reinforced when I bought myself an  Amazon Fire Stick for Christmas. I plugged the streaming media device into my television’s HDMI port, it instantly connected with the internet via the house wifi, and I soon discovered the various different apps offered by CBS, ESPN, FOX, NBC, the NFL and Sling TV for watching football are all prohibitively expensive, at least for moi.

It seems the NFL management is on to fans like me trying to watch the games for free on the internet. That’s one reason why, despite the well-publicized television ratings decline this season, and a projected $500 million advertising revenue loss for its television partners, the league itself saw an increase in ad revenue, boosted by a $2 billion, 5-year deal with Verizon which will permit Verizon customers to stream live NFL games on mobile devices for “free”—as long as they sign up for a multi-year cell phone contract.

This season, Amazon paid the NFL $50 million for the rights to broadcast 10 Thursday night games and offered Prime users free access to the Christmas day game between the Pittsburg Steelers and Houston Texans. Using my free one-month trial of Prime, I watched the first half of the game, which saw quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers predictably steamroll the Texans and their third-string QB. Despite the number of people watching the game on Amazon, fewer watched this Christmas than last.

According to Clay Travis at the sports blog Outkick the Coverage, the predictability of mediocre match-ups is one of four elements that are contributing to the NFL’s current ratings decline. Other elements include the dilution of the NFL product that has occurred with the addition of weekly Thursday night games, the addition of two teams to the Los Angeles media market, and the NFL players’ protest against police brutality in black communities, which began last season when Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem before games.

Travis’ insights into the current state of bad play in the NFL are not encouraging for the league’s long-term future. In his view, it all comes down to the play of the quarterback, and there are simply too many mediocre quarterbacks in the league today. The situation is not likely to improve in the future, as athletes who might be pro QB material opt to play other sports that don’t involve permanent brain damage as part of the job description.

Given this state of affairs, northern California football fans are no doubt still pinching themselves after the arrival of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the former heir apparent to New England Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady, snatched away by the San Francisco 49ers in a mid-season trade. Jimmy G has breathed new life into a formerly moribund Niners squad, winning his first four NFL starts with smart play that’s being compared to the legendary Joe Montana.

By the time you’re reading this, Jimmy Montana may have won his fifth straight game. The team will still have an abysmal record, but hardcore Niners fans are already talking Super Bowl next season and the playoffs look like a real possibility, such has been Garoppolo’s play. We’re spoiled, we Niners fans. It’s only been five short years since Kaepernick came within a touchdown of winning Super Bowl XLVII, but with all this excitement, you’d think decades had passed.

(Actually, two decades have passed since the Niners actually won a Super Bowl, which just goes to show winning is everything.)

With the regular season coming to a close, it doesn’t make much sense for me to subscribe to one of the many apps that are available for watching NFL games online today. But next season? I can sense in my bones already I’m going to fork over the bread. Jimmy G appears to be the real deal.

As far as this year’s NFL playoffs are concerned, the oddsmakers are predicting a showdown between Roethlisberger’s Steelers and Brady’s Patriots in the AFC Championship, with the nod currently going to the Patriots, seeking to win that ever-elusive two Super Bowls in a row.

Right now, thanks to injuries to star players such as Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, the NFC Championship is too close to call, but if coincidence has anything to do with it, the Minnesota Vikings will come out on top and enjoy home field advantage for Super Bowl LII, which will be played at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4.

Whether it’s against the Steelers or the Patriots, the Vikings are going to need all the help they can get. I’ll probably be watching at the sports bar. Or not.

R.V. Scheide

R.V. Scheide is an award-winning journalist who has covered news, politics, music, arts and culture in Northern California for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in the Tenderloin Times, Sacramento News & Review, Reno News & Review, Chico News & Review, North Bay Bohemian, San Jose Metro, SF Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, Alternet, Boston Phoenix, Creative Loafing and Counterpunch, among many other publications. His honors include winning the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Freedom of Information Act and best columnist awards as well as best commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists, California chapter. Mr. Scheide welcomes your comments and story tips. Contact him at RVScheide@anewscafe.com..

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