Here’s the bottom line on the bottom line: CBS pays $3.73 billion for football’s TV rights, NBC $3.6 billion, Fox $4.27 billion, ESPN $8.8 billion. This doesn’t even count the piddly $1 billion DirecTV pays to simply re-air the games CBS and Fox are re-airing, a double dip that has no precedent in televised entertainment or even in business. That’s $21.4 billion just in TV rights. And you know what? It expires in 2014. The next contract, which runs until 2022, will be almost double that — $39.6 billion. This is a marriage that football and its TV partners find blissful and profitable, never more so than with the unprecedented ratings the first three weeks of this season.
Baseball can tell you about the benefits of scandal. Baseball, believe it or not, is grateful for steroids. Steroids were medicine for this sport. Baseball is healthier than it has ever been today, getting off of its knees the way it did when bloated Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire inflated the sport back up to size after a strike that produced real customer outrage that pushed fans and dollars away. For all the smearing and Congressional hearings, the fact is that Bud Selig, given a chance to do it over, probably would not trade all the healing steroids did for his sport in exchange for having a clean sport without all those sport-resurrecting home runs. Those credibility and trust issues steroids caused were much more serious than anything these fake refs did, but even those don’t echo in any meaningful way that costs baseball dollars.
The damage done by those replacement refs? It isn’t real unless you live in Green Bay. For all the wailing about image and trust, the NFL did exactly zero real harm to itself during the first month. The sport is stronger than ever today. Long-term, yes, it would have been an issue because you can’t have your sport feeling as corrupt as boxing. But short-term? No problem. Quite the opposite, actually. Football might regret those replacement refs in some abstract way, but you know it wouldn’t give back those good-for-business ratings.