What’s better for the NFL: The Atlanta Falcons winning their first ever Super Bowl or the New England Patriots winning their fifth during the Bill Belichick – Tom Brady era? The answer depends on your definition of NFL.
Because if it’s Roger Goodell, the answer might not be what you expect. I don’t think Goodell harbors anything against the Patriots specifically. It’s always easy to forget he works for the owners, and represents the majority interest. His decisions against Brady and the Patriots weren’t born out of thin air. The had basis and some logic behind them. Whether or not it makes sense considering how the league treats other offenses? That’s not the point.
So why would Goodell want the Patriots to win? Because dynasties and huge teams are excellent stories, which means ratings. Think of the NBA. Part of the ratings renaissance in recent years is LeBron James himself, because of the villain role he’s taken, but not just that. It’s the legacy in the making. A great story being told. Last season, against the defending champions Golden State Warriors, with the best record in any NBA regular season, turning into villains themselves, it created the perfect story, giving the league it’s highest Finals ratings since the Michael Jordan days.
And while parity is great for the NFL in terms of healthy organizations and trying to sell the idea that anyone can win the Super Bowl (10 different winners in the last 10 seasons), that isn’t what drives people to watch. The Patriots’ “evil empire” is a much better and more interesting storyline. The Falcons winning their first? Great story, and elevates someone like Matt Ryan into a whole new level of historical appreciation, but the Falcons don’t have the national appeal the Patriots have. But maybe it starts something. Remember what the Patriots were before Belichick came along?
The Dallas Cowboys are proof that big names are what drives the NFL. The Cowboys haven’t won the Super Bowl in 21 years, yet they remain the biggest ratings and attendance draw in the NFL; the world’s most valuable sports franchise. Maybe it says something about Jerry Jones and his ability to market the brand of a team that hasn’t made one conference championship game in over two decades. Maybe it suggests that old habits die hard.
The NFL is also its fans. It’s hard to believe that anyone outside New England wants the Patriots to win. Maybe Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers fans too, but those are small pockets of the NFL’s fanbase, compared to what the rest of the nation feels like about the Patriots. There are also fans of teams like the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers and New York Giants, who don’t want to see the Patriots either match them in Super Bowl championships or leave them behind. These things matter, even to fans who weren’t even born when some of those championships were won.
Predictability is never good. If the Patriots win, it probably means it wasn’t such an interesting Super Bowl, because the initial balance of power seems skewed. Overall, it’s probably preferable to see one more team join the club of Super Bowl champions instead of the Patriots claiming another decade to themselves. On the other hand, it gives more people another reason to hate them, which makes the stroy for them and against them much stronger. As we said in the beginning, there’s no one true answer, and it all depends on where your allegiances lie.