Falcons stadium proposal begs a look at football’s future

Before spending a few hundred million taxpayer dollars — for example, on a new stadium for the Falcons — it is worth mulling worst-case scenarios. The worst of the worst cases for the stadium is that, within a few decades, football as we know it is extinct.

Get this straight: I’m not predicting football’s death. The NFL and college football have never been bigger. Projecting the sport’s demise would seem to put one in the company of Harold Camping, the nonagenarian preacher who (twice!) last year forecast Doomsday, not among UGA football’s season-ticket holders.

That said, there are some dark clouds on the sport’s horizon. What better time to pause and consider those clouds than before a deal is signed and the bonds — for which Atlanta’s hotel tax revenues would be committed until 2050 — are sold.

The place to start is with the dominant story this NFL offseason, which concerns player safety. The NFL faces 70 lawsuits covering more than 1,800 ex-players who claim the league knew the dangers of concussions but didn’t fully inform players about them. A few cases were filed here in Georgia.

These legal filings provide context for the NFL’s biggest headache: the bounty program run by the New Orleans Saints. Coaches and players alike chipped in thousands of dollars to reward hits that knocked opposing players out of games, or worse. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hammered the team in response, suspending coaches and players, and taking away precious draft picks.

Only the willfully blind could believe the severity of the penalties was unrelated to the pending lawsuits. Or that the same motivation didn’t lead the NFL this week to release a study suggesting former players have longer life expectancies than average. The league clearly is taking the suits seriously.

In a way, though, the suits and potential damages are the least of the NFL’s concerns. If each of the 1,800 players was awarded $1 million in damages, that wouldn’t exceed the league’s reported profits for even two seasons.

But as the NFL changes rules to enhance player safety, including reducing the speed and frequency of collisions on kickoffs and penalizing hits against “defenseless” players, fans grumble. NASCAR, which has seen its popularity drop sharply since emphasizing protections for drivers, is an ominous comparison.

Even the players are leery of the changes. “This is football. It’s not powder puff,” Bernard Pollard, a safety for the Baltimore Ravens, recently told CBSSports.com. “When Nike unveiled their new uniforms, I’m surprised they didn’t have flags on the side. … You’re taking away the game of football.”

Players like Pollard know football is popular chiefly because it is so violent. Imagine a game in which every player is protected the way quarterbacks are now. Be honest: Would you watch?

There are other threats. Only a fraction of those who play football are pros. What if colleges or high schools are sued by concussed ex-players? How hard would schools — which, unlike the NFL, have a purpose beyond football — fight? Or might they be more inclined to fold their programs, costing the NFL its de facto minor leagues?

The supply of players could also drop if fewer parents let their children play the game.

A watershed moment may have occurred last week with the suicide of Junior Seau. He was one of the NFL’s best, most popular players from 1990 to 2009 — when many parents of young children, like me, were young fans.

Those of us who grew up watching the big-hitting Seau — fittingly pronounced “Say Ow” — will want to know if brain injuries played a role in his death. Many will think twice, at least, before letting our kids play his sport.

Still think football is invincible? As economists Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier noted in a recent article at Grantland.com (“What would the end of football look like?”), the nation’s most popular sports in the early 20th century were baseball, boxing and horse racing. The latter two have lost much of their following.

They added, “If you look at the stocks in the Fortune 500 from 1983, for example, 40 percent of those companies no longer exist.” They’re not smaller, mind you; they are gone, 29 years later.

These concerns may not rise to the level of killing a proposed stadium (though there are other arguments against it). But given the pace at which they’re rising, it’s worth asking if football’s future might not be as rosy — that is, not $300 million in public funds rosy — by the time that new ballpark would open.

– By Kyle Wingfield

Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter

128 comments Add your comment

Karl Marx

May 10th, 2012
6:26 am

The NFL has become just like the NBA. I quit watching basketball because of Dennis Rodman and others. If the Falcon’s and Arthur Blank succeed in getting this new stadium with any taxpayer funding I’ll never spend a penny on anything NFL again. I would rather see the Falcon leave town. We could do better by hosting other events in the dome to bring in revenue.

I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

May 10th, 2012
7:09 am

My prediction, The NFL will outlive the dummycrat party.

Joel Edge

May 10th, 2012
7:15 am

I don’t think football is going anywhere or will significantly change. As you pointed out, it is violent in nature. Claims will be paid, new helmets will be trotted out, etc.
The drop in Nascar popularity is a coincidence, I think. It ain’t “stock car racing” anymore. Read an article a few weeks back, they’re going to try and emphasize the machines a little more and not so much the drivers. Try and bring back the Ford vs Chevy vs Dodge days. Don’t know if that will work.

Baker

May 10th, 2012
7:15 am

Barman

May 10th, 2012
7:17 am

6-day bicycle racing was ten times more popular than baseball at the turn of the century! Major Taylor was making over a million dollars a year! Babe Ruth never came close to that!

dcb

May 10th, 2012
7:25 am

The only ones who benefit from all the lawsuits in this ridiculous litigious era of society are the lawyers. To say that the league knew of the dangers of the game in past decades and did little to protect the players very willing to put their heads on the line for the mega-bucks out there waiting, is like saying race car drivers and jockeys have similar arguments because conditions on a wet track or angles on the turns have suddenly been declared (by attorneys) more dangerous than prudent. Wonder when Obama will come out with his position on the matter. Oh I know – after consideration of which way the wind is blowing as dictated by the polls and discussion over the dinner table with his wife and daughters?????

Techfan

May 10th, 2012
7:48 am

The Georgia Dome opened in 1992. How do you dedicate 40 years of taxes to stadiums that evidentlly have a 20 year shelf life?

MarkV

May 10th, 2012
8:05 am

My prediction, People like I Report (-: You Whine ) will drown in their bile.

carlosgvv

May 10th, 2012
8:09 am

The human body is not designed to stand up to years of brutal football playing. While we 21st century folks like to think we’re light years away from those who enjoyed the carnage of the ancient Roman arenas, we may not be as far from that as we think. A totally safe football game would probably draw many less viewers than today’s knock down drag out offering.

As for the stadium, it is a waste of good money no matter how dangerous or safe football is.

sheepdawg

May 10th, 2012
8:26 am

Good article and subject , Kyle. But you failed to touch on the college level corruption brought on by big time athletics. The schools have lost control via athletic associations and demented alumni, thus outrageous $4-5 million contract have become the norm for coaches who bend the rules and manipulate teenagers all for the sake of fans and alumni (and money). Kids, sometime street thugs, with no inclination for secondary education take the coveted slots in our flagship state university, only to often bring disgrace to our schools through their lack of academic skills and/or criminal actions. College football is even more corrupt than the NFL. At least the NFL doesn’t hide its primary goals behind the secondary education of our young adults.

I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

May 10th, 2012
8:40 am

What a whackjob-

MarkV

May 10th, 2012
8:05 am

My prediction, People like I Report (-: You Whine ) will drown in their bile.

You mean “your hope is,” right?

Ward

May 10th, 2012
8:45 am

Lawyers are at the root of all skullduggery. And we’re making (and electing) more lawyers every day.

Jason

May 10th, 2012
8:54 am

Kyle’s comments about the NFL’s defacto minor league probably are the most important. NFL players, with a few exceptions, started playing when they were young children. With more and more data coming out about the dangers of playing football, expect fewer parents to allow their kids to play. How long will Pop Warner football exist when kids already more interested in video games than contact sports are prohibited by their parents from playing? While there will always be some who will encourage their kids to play, a reduction of half or more could cause the whole system to collapse. Many smaller high schools would have to drop football and the same would happen to smaller college programs. We’re not going to see UGA suddenly drop football but without kids starting to play at a young age, eventually the pipeline of talent will go dry.

The flip sid of this is that it probably will take decades to happen and as we’ve seen with the Georgia Dome, the expected life of an NFL stadium is about that long. The new Falcons stadium is likely to happen no matter what but it could indeed be the last one built.

wrestler

May 10th, 2012
8:58 am

Wrestling will always take the players anyway, right Mr. Dwayne Johnson. Football is losing its popularity anyway..too many premadonna’s messing it up nowadays.

Jason

May 10th, 2012
8:59 am

Another thing to ponder… apparently lacrosse has been gaining in popularity over the past few years. Could this be in response to the increasing amount of knowledge about the dangers of playing football? Lacrosse is also a collison sport and it certainly is possible to get hurt playing it but injuries are much less common, especially the type that give you a concussion. Though I must admit, I have a hard time ever seeing lacrosse becoming a major league type of sport but who knows. As Kyle pointed out, history has shown that these things can change rapidly. Remember how big the NBA was in the late 80s/early 90s?

Kyle Wingfield

May 10th, 2012
9:17 am

Techfan: The Dome’s bonds won’t be paid off until ~2017, so it would be then or afterward before taxes shifted toward a new stadium’s bonds — closer to 30 years than 40.

Your point still stands, just thought I’d put those facts out there.

Kyle Wingfield

May 10th, 2012
9:21 am

Jason @ 8:54: You might very well be right about the consequences being more relevant to any stadium built after the next one. If there is to be a trend away from football, we are (at most) at the very beginning of it; it’s impossible to know how quickly any changes would take place. But it’ll be five years or more before a new stadium opens, and I wonder how the picture might change even between now and then.

Edward

May 10th, 2012
9:24 am

Oh look! Kyle dodging Romney’s BLATANT LIE about the auto industry. Now, why would Kyle do such a thing, isn’t he “fair and balanced”? Kyle: just another pathetic sycophant.

BW

May 10th, 2012
9:34 am

Kyle

It’s interesting that you bring up the issue of taxpayer financed stadiums. This issue will never come up for a referendum. The Republican legislators already extended the hotel-motel tax for 30 years in 2010, providing up to $300 million in funding. If necessary, they would slap on a car rental tax to handle any additional funding tranche. As for football, there is simply too much money in the game right now. I don’t see that ending unless they decide to play touch football. The best thing for the league to do is to provide funding for a Medicare style program funded from the player’s checks to handle the aftermath of injuries especially traumatic ones. There are too many fresh bodies that are available each year for this to be a long term problem.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

May 10th, 2012
9:37 am

40 years of taxes for 20 years of dubious benefits.

This must have been schemed up by a Democrat.

real john

May 10th, 2012
9:37 am

Edward.

Get a life. Just another hateful, lib. This article HAS NOTHING TO DO with politics. Your probably one of the paid DNC bloggers who just can’t wait for one of Kyle’s articles to come out so you can spill your hate and lib talking points

Aquagirl

May 10th, 2012
9:37 am

Kyle dodging Romney’s BLATANT LIE about the auto industry.

Blogspot is ready when you are….wad your panties all you want for absolutely free.

Kyle Wingfield

May 10th, 2012
9:43 am

Aquagirl @ 9:37 +1,000

Intown

May 10th, 2012
9:49 am

Kyle raises valid points on the new stadium issue. Perhaps the hotel/motel tax revenue could be put to better use building other attractions — Peachtree Streetcar; accelerating the BeltLine; recruiting other big attractions such as museums of nation-wide interest or building a comprehensive civil rights attraction like Alabama did or like Boston did with its historic walks. Our leaders need to think bigger and more permanent than a billion dollar football stadium to replace one that is still fully functional and hasn’t been paid off yet.

Former Reagan Republican

May 10th, 2012
9:54 am

Kyle, This is rare, but I completely agree with you.Good read.

I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

May 10th, 2012
10:03 am

Look at the libs trying to bait us-

Orangutans Using iPads To Communicate At Zoos Across Country…

Obama’s Evolution Is Complete – Howard Kurtz, The Daily Beast

Too bad, we ain’t going there, just sayin…

JohnnyReb

May 10th, 2012
10:04 am

Let’s see….the Atlanta sewer and storm water drains need millions of dollars of repairs. Almost 100% of children in the Atlanta school system are on the free meal program. The roadways are so clogged it’s necessary to come up a scheme (TSPLOST) to transfer money from the South of town to the North to even begin to address the problems. Yet, the government fathers want to use tax money for a Falcons stadium. But not to worry, all those peskie issues listed above can be funded by federal grants. You know, more wealth transfer from the producers to the dummies.

When I watch NASCAR and they interview a driver, I actually understand every word they speak. Why is it when most NFL players are interviewed you need an interpreter? That just a side observation as the NFL did themselves in when they let Vick back in. As far as I’m concerned, they can play in a sand lot.

hryder

May 10th, 2012
10:07 am

Boxing should be illegal. The purpose is to render on opponent unable to stand erect for ten seconds or longer. When done outside of sanctioned events this is assault. Many techniques in football skills will, if accomplished, cause physical injuries that also would be assault away from the football fields. Have we evolved from events once held in Rome’s Colosseum?

JohnnyReb

May 10th, 2012
10:18 am

Amdendment to my 10:14 – I omitted the most pressing issue for Atlanta – water. But don’t worry, you can sit in the new Falcons stadium while you thirst to death.

pj

May 10th, 2012
10:24 am

News Flash:The middle class has been eradicated.The decent paying jobs have all been farmed out to places where the workers are cheap and plentiful and dont get benefits.No jobs,no money,no pastimes,no vacations,no paying customers.Duh.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

May 10th, 2012
10:28 am

pj, why can’t I get into a Longhorn steakhouse on Friday night if what you say is true?

ragnar danneskjold

May 10th, 2012
10:29 am

I am a baseball fan. Have not watched a complete football game in 25 years, although I did watch most of the Rams-Titan superbowl 10 years ago. This is a big issue for Rush and for football fans. I will pledge to not support any who would outlaw football, or boxing, or any other traditional male-only sport, but that libertarian view is about all the care I can muster.

Tiberius - Banned from Bookman's and proud of it!

May 10th, 2012
10:31 am

Not sure about your “death of football” posture, Kyle, but if the NFL isn’t careful, they could be impacted long-term by these injuries to the head. The problem, as has been pointed out, is that these injuries occur much earlier than even college or pro football, and based on recent studies, seem to be cumulative in their effect.

Imagine what happens to colleges and universities across the South, Midwest and West if they have to rely on a much smaller take from athletics if this progressive injury theory bears fruit. Look at all the big, dumb kids who will have no place to go but work in their local McDonalds for the rest of their lives. The liberal professor’s salaries that will have to be cut.

Armageddon as we know it.

Atlanta Thrashers Hockey Fan

May 10th, 2012
10:35 am

Turner Field > Any Falcons Stadium

Any Pile of Feces > Atlanta Spirit Group

Kyle Wingfield

May 10th, 2012
10:42 am

ragnar: I, too, would oppose the outlawing of football. The scenario I am describing — again, not predicting — is one in which the market would decide football was no longer an attractive career or product.

Tiberius: The key words in my first paragraph were “as we know it.” I doubt football, per se, will disappear; it just risks becoming a less appealing sport.

Atlanta Thrashers Hockey Fan

May 10th, 2012
10:43 am

Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars to build a new football stadium when we already have a perfectly-good Georgia Dome, why doesn’t the City of Atlanta build a giant toilet bowl (with real flushing action) to host all the visiting cars for Freak-Nik?

Tiberius - Banned from Bookman's and proud of it!

May 10th, 2012
10:52 am

I know, Kyle. But for many people, the dramatic hits are secondary to the execution of a good play, either offensively or defensively.

But I don’t see the NFL as a whole becoming the Pro Bowl, either.

Even with minor adjustments beginning early in a kid’s football life, the game can be made safer and still keep the excitement that brings fans into stadiums today well into the future.

iggy

May 10th, 2012
10:54 am

The Falcons are a group of losers and dont deserve a new stadium. Begin winning some Superbowls then we may discuss a new stadium. Otherwise, get out of Atlanta.

Curious George

May 10th, 2012
10:59 am

Will Arthur Blank save Georgia taxpayers some money by getting us his “founder discount” on building materials from HOME DEPOT stores to use in building his new football palace at our expense?

Curious George

May 10th, 2012
11:00 am

Oh, you mean Arthur Blank doesn’t want to use the same, cheap, low-quality, poorly-made-in-China-with-toxic-residue tools and equipment on his new stadium that he became billionaire in peddling to us for decades?

getalife

May 10th, 2012
11:02 am

Our President called willard’s lie about saving our auto industry one of willard’s etch and sketch moments.

Tiberius - Banned from Bookman's and proud of it!

May 10th, 2012
11:03 am

To say that you have some serious issues, Curious George, would be an understatement.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

May 10th, 2012
11:08 am

Mittens was a bully? Well, we kind of expected that, didn’t we?

We need to bang this drum for a week or two, minimum.

iggy

May 10th, 2012
11:14 am

Finn, the liberal, UnCool needs to visit woodruff park, pickup some homeless patients and move them into his house.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

May 10th, 2012
11:15 am

That took guts for Obama to tell the truth yesterday.

Really looks like Mitt doesn’t have any stones, doesn’t it? He can’t/won’t stand up for ANYTHING he believes in that doesn’t conform to the right wing agenda. And when he does state a belief in something it’s likely to change in a week or so.

Tiberius - Banned from Bookman's and proud of it!

May 10th, 2012
11:17 am

Is it possible, getaclue and Finn McCool, to have a thread go through two pages before you losers try to hijack it?

I realize that DNC talking points don’t cover local issues, but Kyle actually does.

td

May 10th, 2012
11:28 am

Finn McCool,

Yes, Obama came out and said he personally believes should be able to marry. Then he hedged his bets by saying it is up to the states to decide marriage law. In other words, I want the gays (who are 1 and 6 of my major money bundelers) to continue to bring in money to my campaign but I am telling African Americans (who the majority oppose gay marriage) that you can still block the gays by voting with the social conservatives in your states.

Real guts alright.

Don't Tread

May 10th, 2012
11:30 am

I think the decline in NASCAR attendance is due to the economy, not increases in driver safety. Nobody wants to see drivers get killed. NFL may be the same way.

However, if the blue-collar jobs keep getting exported at the rate they’re going, they’ll need to replace all the seats with skyboxes because no one else will be able to afford to attend.

Tiberius - Banned from Bookman's and proud of it!

May 10th, 2012
11:33 am

Can’t we all just admit that maybe NASCAR is suffering a reduction in attendance because people are finally wising up to the fact that watching cars go around a track in one direction for hours on end might possibly be the most boring “sport” of all time?

@@

May 10th, 2012
11:48 am

Don’t watch football. There’s so many bodies flying around, I can’t keep up with the object of their obsession. They’re paid by “the pound”, are they not?

Put ‘em on a diet to reduce impact.

Change? I confess…there’s something about watching a bull rider in a helmet with face guard that just doesn’t do it for me.

Real men wear felt.