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The NFL’s reinvigorated celebration rules have nothing to do with the players

Last week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced he would be loosening the tight restrictions that govern celebrating.


Last week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced he would be loosening the tight restrictions that govern celebrating.

My immediate thoughts were that, initially, this is going to be confusing; rule interpretations in different sports are tightened and loosened all the time.

But for a rule as vague as one that surrounds celebrating, we’re sure to cross our fair share of speed bumps this season as players work out where the league has drawn the line with the exclamation marks they add to their touchdowns.

Using the ball as a prop? That’s back. Celebrating on the ground? That’s back too. Group celebrations? They’re also making a welcome return.

However, mimicking the use of a weapon, offensive demonstrations, mocking opponents and delaying the game are all still on the sidelines.

But what if a player performing a group celebration on the ground, using the ball as a prop, does something that offends the person sitting in section 199, row m, seat 2? Will we see a flag?

Besides, who defines a weapon? I could kill you with an apple, need be.

Who decides when the game has been delayed? Hell, who decides whether something is offensive? I shudder at that last thought.

There’s going to be more than one player inadvertently crossing the line this season. Roger Goodell said so himself in his press conference when he announced his newfound leniency. 

“Everyone has a different idea of where the line is”, the Commissioner said.

Correct, and there’s bound to be a teething time this season when it causes problems.

Nevertheless, the uncharacteristic change of heart from Goodell is a welcome one from a usually conservative boss, and most everyone assumed that the rule change was designed to make a crabby player base a little happier.

What? Since when have we decided that the NFL acts only to make the players happy? They don’t, especially when it conflicts with their own interests. Go back and Google the ‘League of Denial’ controversy surrounding CTE.

Making Money

Roger Goodell is a capitalist, and his number one job is to assure the league is making money. Everyone is well aware of his goal to assure the NFL is a $25 billion business by 2027.

This is not a bad thing. But last year, the league took a hit in an area that has been historically rock solid – television ratings.

Across the NFL, the 2016-17 season saw a 9% regular season decline in ratings, and a 6% postseason slump. 

This is not going to result in an immediate hit for the NFL. The next broadcast deal, which is also sure to be bid for by digital players including Amazon and Google, will still likely be the most expensive TV deal in history. 

But fans switching off is far from a good thing. Fans are money, and fans have eyeballs, with pupils that are dollar signs, at least according to advertisers.

People claimed that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were stealing the league’s limelight. Not true. Pre-election ratings were down an even steeper 12%, and post election playoff ratings have already been mentioned.

Changing Perceptions

You can probably begin to see the connection I’m attempting to make here, and I can guess that you’re also thinking that it’s a naive and assumptive one. It is. 

There are very few people out there only watching the NFL because guys like Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens once made asses of themselves on any given Sunday.

But the power of perception and thinking is a strong one, and the No Fun League moniker is one that has well and truly taken off (Google returns roughly 15 million results!).

The league is looking to change perceptions, and present that they’re committed to reconnecting with the fans and the spirit of the players, that they have so frequently stepped on in recent years.

It’s timely to remind that Roger Goodell also recently came out and reaffirmed his stance in the NFL’s marijuana policy, a policy widely unpopular with the players. 

A well-timed, positive PR drop like this celebration ruling is more than welcome.

Earlier this month, the league held their annual draft, and perhaps spurred on by poor ratings last year, committed to making this the most exciting draft ever. It worked. 

With cameras in the draft rooms of 20 different teams, and over 500 highlight packages prepared by ESPN and NFL Network, this years’ draft was up 6% in the ratings, drawing on an average of 4.6 million viewers to the historical bore fest. 

Even 1% of viewers turning off is negative, and the scary numbers the league reeled in last year had to be acted upon, and they have been. With people quickly losing interest, the NFL is working hard to stop the rot. 

As someone who studied public relations at university, I’m certain Roger Goodell asked someone like me from within the league of a quick-fire way to generate some positive press and fan chatter, and this is what they came up with.

After all, given what we know about the NFL, if it were a decision made solely for the benefit of the players, it probably wouldn’t have been made at all.

Thoughts on the rule changes?  Discuss in the comments below!

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Myles Stedman

Journalist at Rugby.com.au. NEAFL media team. Contributor at Zero Tackle, Green and Gold Rugby, 16 Wins a Ring, The Sixer Sense via FanSided, Last Word on Hockey and cover32.

The NFL’s reinvigorated celebration rules have nothing to do with the players

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