NFL’s plan to compel teams to appear on Hard Knocks is misguided

Cincinnati Bengals

Last week the National Football League (NFL) was revealed to be considering proposals that would make it possible for them to compel teams to appear on HBO’s Hard Knocks series.

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the league may be able to force teams to appear on the show if there are no volunteers. There are some teams which will be exempt:

  • Teams that have made the playoffs in either of the last two seasons

  • Teams with a new head coach

  • Those teams that have appeared on the show in the previous decades. 

This means that (if teams keep their ranking positions at the end of the season and there are no coaching changes) the teams that will be eligible for the proposal are: Buffalo, Tennessee, Jacksonville, San Diego, Oakland, Philadelphia, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Arizona and St Louis. 

While some of these teams could be interesting to watch, the proposal is, overall, a bad idea. But why? 

First of all, from the league’s point of view it makes total sense. After the Jets (read: Rex Ryan) appearance on the show in 2010 and the lockout in 2012 there were few teams willing to let the cameras in. The Dolphins season was not fantastic, though it did offer the producers the opportunity to show lots of slow motion shots of the Dolphins cheerleaders. 

This season the Bengals appeared on the show for the second time, and again couldn’t hold a candle to the interest of the Jets season. However, there was still an audience for the show, and the money brought in to the league is something that they will not want to lose. Under this proposal that risk has been totally removed. 

With the criteria of only making poorly performing teams appear on the show, it will also help the league to get more people interested in whatever franchise is featured - as a marketing opportunity for the league, the idea certainly holds water.

For the teams, however, it is quite a different deal. Some teams, such as the Giants and Patriots, hardly seem interested in hosting the show, and as Andrew Brandt, former front office executive with the Packers revealed, they weren’t the only franchises totally unwilling to let the cameras in.

 If the team is forced to let the cameras into their world, it quite likely that we’ll see more performances like that of James Harrison with the Bengals, who pretty much avoided the Hard Knocks cameras as much as possible (much like he has avoided being a factor on the field).

And finally, the audience. While the show can be interesting, and offer some insight into the world of NFL training camp, how much less interesting and enjoyable will the show be if no one wants the cameras to be there? For fans of the teams that appear, it could make their team look foolish, reticent or just like a bunch of assholes, and it will be hard for any team that appears on the show against it’s will to build much of a neutral following if they clearly look awkward, uninterested or like they’re trying too hard (imagine an entire team made up of Taylor Mays).

While this idea can be seen as good business sense for the league, it could be a really poor move for the quality of the show, the reputation of the teams and the people who ought to be important when planning a reality TV show: the audience.

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