Growing up as a youngster in the 90’s I remember Thanksgiving as a time for family and a time where the only thing allowed on TV that day was the NFL. During my youth I remember Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, Johnnie Morton and other notable Detroit Lions. The Dallas Cowboys had the likes of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. Those were the good old when both teams had star power. Much has changed since I was a kid like the success of both team. The Dallas Cowboys have only had two playoff wins since 1996 and the Detroit Lions have not won a playoff game since 1991. The Lions started playing on Thanksgiving during the 1930’s and the Cowboys became regular Thanksgiving hosts in the 1970’s. The Lions all time record on Thanksgiving is 37-40-2 while the Cowboys have a better record of 31-19-1. Even though the NFL is making more money than it’s ever been the overall ratings don’t necessarily show it. As someone grew up and still lives in Michigan, the Lions playing on Thanksgiving has not interested me in a long time. The same can be said for the Cowboys because in my mind the successful teams are the ones who should be showcased on special occasions.
Look at the NBA and how they do their scheduling. Without skipping a beat some of the best NBA games of the year are usually played on Christmas Day. This year will be no different because their five games that could easily steal the show. The games this year are Bucks vs. Knicks, Thunder vs. Rockets, 76ers vs. Celtics, Lakers vs. Warriors, and Trailblazers vs. Jazz. All five games are solid matchup’s and they featuring teams from all regions of the country. The NBA also have special jersey’s they came out with for Christmas every year that give teams a unique look for the holiday. The three games that were played this year on Thanksgiving featured teams on the East Coast and Midwest. There were no West Coast teams featured this year and since the inception of football on Thanksgiving the West Coast teams have played less than fifty times. Right now, If I am the Los Angeles Chargers or Rams I’d want the spotlight due to the success they are having. Another league that gets right is the NHL. Since 2008, the NHL has had the Winter Classic on New Years Day. Since the inception there have been ten teams to play in the Classic and each year they have all been in a different location. The Winter Classic games are played outdoors and are setup on a baseball field or football field. The attendance of these games are more than the NHL would get at an indoor game. The NBA and NHL have the right ideas by doing different things to get more attention around their product on days where it’s hard to get ratings. I don’t think having the same two teams play every year is a good marketing strategy especially when one of them has a losing record on Thanksgiving.
Since 2006, the NFL added a third game to prime-time television and every year there has been a different match-up. It’s been a good alternative if you’re not a fan of the Cowboys, Lions or whoever they are facing. If I was in charge of the marketing and scheduling strategy I would do things differently. My strategy would be about who is winning, who is being successful and what would draw the most interest. If I am doing the schedule I would schedule a Super Bowl rematch from the previous season, and then I would schedule the losing teams of the Conference Championship Games from the previous year as well. I know a strategy like this would upset Cowboys and Lions fans so I would have them face each other. Have them alternate each year where the location is so one team isn’t making all the money at their stadium. This would keep part of the tradition alive, but then each year you would have more variety of who is playing. It’s almost a guarantee that you would have a different match up every year because the same two teams don’t go to the Super Bowl or Conference Championships every year.
I know this sounds like a stretch and some people would probably hate the idea, but it’s fun to explore different ideas. As a sports fan, I am tired of seeing the same thing over and over. It’s nice to have change and different teams in the spotlight that earn it. I am sure that the Cowboys and Lions will always be the centerpiece of Thanksgiving Football, but at what point do you stop putting the unsuccessful teams in the spotlight? Some are traditionalists and probably wouldn’t change a thing, but I love change and variety. Will there ever be a time where the tradition gets cancelled in favor of better ratings and possibly more money? Only time will tell, but for now we will always have the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day.