Richard Deitsch: ‘Fearful They Could Lose This Product’

As various networks report on Ray Rice, Roger Goodell and the latest NFL fiasco, Richard Deitsch wants you to keep something in mind: consider the source.

“Listen, it’s pretty fascinating because obviously NFL programming is the most important programming that exists, that goes beyond entertainment,” the Sports Illustrated writer said on The MoJo Show. “It’s the only guaranteed programming. If you have the NFL on prime time or Sunday, you are generally guaranteed to get a certain viewership or a certain rating – and that’s why the money is so great for it.”

“So the networks, in particular ESPN and the NFL Network, are in tricky positions – ESPN because they’re a 24/7 network,” Deitsch continued. “Their content is so heavy on the NFL between games that they have to cover this. And then the question is, how far can they go in terms of their own people talking about Roger Goodell and suggesting whether he should or should not stay – because obviously the league office is watching that.”

“The NFL Network, obviously being a league-owned network, has a lot of eye balls on how far can they go in terms of just reporting it – because they are ultimately a PR engine for the league. Then when it comes to CBS, NBC and FOX, it’s sort of all varying different degrees. CBS has CBS Sports Network. Good network, young, but still not a ton of people watching it. NBC Sports Network (is) a little bit more mature, but again, the ratings and viewership (are) not that great, and they’re not a 24/7 network the way ESPN is.”

Deitsch believes ESPN has offered “by far the most coverage” of this entire saga.

“I think they’ve had the most depth, and they’ve had the most kind of, in my opinion, journalistic smarts,” Deitsch said. “At the same time, when all this broke, there were a lot of people carrying the water for the NFL, so they’ve kind of shifted as a company in the last two months. At first, they were really sort of praising Goodell. A lot of people on the airways were saying the punishment fit the crime. And now, obviously when the video came out and when the social-media public weighed in against the NFL, I think you’ve seen ESPN take a little bit of a different turn.”

On the one hand, networks have to be careful because they have partnerships with the NFL. On the other hand, the NFL will still go with whichever network gives them the most money. Those networks might provide bad PR from time to time, but ultimately, it comes down to money.

“But here’s the one thing I would say that you should keep in mind,” Deitsch said. “This is alway sort of fascinating to me: Ultimately, the NFL needs this money to sort of continue to grow their product, to make these billionaires more billionaires. So you think these networks would have some semblance of leverage because they have the money.”

Last year, however, the NFL applied pressure on ESPN for its partnerships with Frontline and PBS.

“ESPN blinked,” Deitsch said, stunned. “The place that spent $1.9 billion, blinked. They’re the ones who have the billions. This is where the NFL is sort of king. I think all these networks are so fearful that one day they could potentially lose this product.”

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