Author Brian Tuohy talks to Uncommon Journalism about the National Football League, and why there may be more to accusations of “rigged” games than just the chatter of conspiracy buffs .
At a 2010 National Football League (NFL) owners meeting held in Orlando, Commissioner Roger Goodell made his intentions clear; by 2027, he wanted the league’s total annual revenue to surpass $25 billion -- an extremely ambitious business plan that, in effect, would see the NFL adding $1 billion in total revenue every year over roughly the next two decades.
Financials from 2011 indicate the NFL generated nearly $9.5 billion -- a sum almost two and a half times the revenue generated by the National Basketball Association (NBA), and a figure approximately $2 billion higher than Major League Baseball (MLB) revenue, that same year.
For the NFL, the sum was a revenue increase of roughly $500 million from the year prior; perhaps not the $1 billion Goodell envisioned, but an incredible margin of growth (about 5.5 percent), nonetheless.
With so much money on the line, author Brian Tuohy suspects that not only is league manipulation of outcomes on the gridiron likely, predetermined games may very well be commonplace in the NFL.
“The idea that the league fixed their own games, potentially, just came from watching sports,” he said, “and always being amazed that when they would push a certain storyline or a certain athlete, that person or team would seem to excel better than the possibly should excel…and it was always of benefit to the league.”
With an eagle eye for suspicious sports happenings, Tuohy could be described as something of an Alex Jones for the ESPN set. In 2010, he released “The Fix is In: The Showbiz Manipulations of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NASCAR,” and earlier this year, the follow-up “Larceny Games: Sports Gambling, Game Fixing and the FBI.” The books, Tuohy said, were written out of “an anger” for the way sports are covered by mainstream news outlets.
However, Tuohy is upfront about his theorizations; he said he has no concrete evidence that the NFL “fixes” its games, but remains concerned about a lack of oversights -- not to mention various legal loopholes -- that more or less free the league from having to insure its games go unrigged.
“If the NFL wanted to rig its own games it could do so perfectly legally,” Tuohy said. “There’s no law that prevents any sports league from altering the outcomes of their own game.”
A Different Kind of Moneyball
Tuohy said several factors come into play when discussing why the NFL may consider “rigging” its own contests. Among them, he cites the leagues’ revenue sharing model, a lack of external regulations and even vested interest from mafia bookies.
Anywhere from 70 to 80 percent of NFL revenue is distributed evenly among the teams, Tuohy explained. “You’re talking $8 billion out of that $10 billion [for] every team, no matter if they win the Super Bowl or go 0-16, “ he said. “They’re all going to make the same amount of money.”
Since individual franchises do not receive direct revenue from merchandising and home game ticket sales, Tuohy said team owners are likely to eye other means of generating money. The most common, he said, was the construction of luxury boxes, which are excluded from the NFL’s revenue sharing schema.
“That’s why a lot of teams desire, and basically force, cities to build them new stadiums,” Tuohy stated. “They build these new stadiums and they put in these sky boxes and luxury boxes; that’s revenue that each team is allowed to keep on its own and don’t have to share a single dime of.”
Another interesting tidbit about the NFL’s financials, Tuohy noted, was that the league’s central office in New York is actually tax-exempt. While individual teams are taxed, the National Football League qualifies as a nonprofit organization by listing itself as a “trade association,” placing the league in the same IRS category as most real estate boards and chambers of commerce.
But it’s the NFL’s lack of oversight that Tuohy finds most troubling. He brings up the league’s drug testing policies, which he said are completely devoid of external regulations. “There is no outside entity that influences that whatsoever,” he said. “It’s all league controlled.”
Interestingly, Tuohy believes that legalized gambling may be the catalyst that instigates more monitoring of the league’s policies. “I think that’s one of the reasons [the NFL] wants to keep it illegal,” he said. “They don’t want that sort of oversight.”
In 1999, the National Gambling Impact Study Commission pinned the probable amount of money illegally wagered on sports betting in the United States to be in the range of $80 billion to $380 billion.
Unquestionably, a tremendous amount of money flows through the nation’s sports books, Tuohy said, and organized crime, he added, has a huge hand in the “business.”
“If you think the NFL can control its games and is doing so because $10 billion is at stake,” he said, “$100 billion is being wagered every year on NFL games...and that money can easily influence the outcomes of games if someone desires to do so.”
A Made-for-Television Drama?
About two-thirds of NFL revenue stems directly from the League’s pricey television contracts. “The NFL really wouldn’t exist without TV,” Tuohy said. “Basically four out of the biggest five media conglomerates in the United States fund the NFL, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find another entity, another business out there, that exists that way.”
Tuohy finds it interesting that the TV deal-generated revenue for the league closely matches the combined franchises’ salary caps. “At the same time, it’s really the television networks paying all the athletes,” he added.
To boost ratings and increase fan interest, Tuohy believes the NFL is in perfect predicament to “manipulate” game outcomes, especially since federal regulations outlawing the “rigging” of sporting events -- a’la the regulations mandated in the wake of the "Quiz Show" scandals of the 1950s -- are practically non-existent. Even the Sports Bribery Act of 1964 doesn’t explicitly forbid sports leagues from manufacturing game outcomes, he said.
“You cannot bribe a player, coach or athlete to alter the outcome of a game,” Tuohy said. “Well, if the NFL or NBA decides to alter the outcome of a game through its referees, there’s no bribery involved. It’s basically just someone -- an employer -- telling an employee how to do a job.”
Even lawsuits challenging the league for fraud have come up empty in court, Tuohy said. “A Jets fan sued the Patriots over Spygate, and he said that he was basically representing all Jets fans and he sued for 10 years worth of tickets,” Tuohy recalled. “The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals…said when you buy a ticket to a game, you’re basically buying a license from that team to come in and see a game.”
“The game is just that,” Tuohy continued. “It doesn’t have to be played by any certain rules, certain players don’t have to perform, a team can basically cheat, it doesn’t matter. You basically paid to see a game, they presented a game to you, they’ve fulfilled their contractual obligation to you as a fan.”
The potential “fixing” of NFL games isn’t a new phenomenon, Tuohy said. In order to secure the NFL and American Football League (AFL) merger, he believes league owners may have conspired to tilt the outcome of Super Bowl III -- a famed championship game where a heavily favored (and NFL-owned) Baltimore Colts were upset by a Joe Nameth-led New York Jets squad.
Many modern day NFL “storylines,” Tuohy said, are also highly suspicious. “Tim Tebow’s remarkable run with the Broncos, I think you talk about Saints’ incredible comeback after Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “I think those sort of things, they’ve been manipulated.”
In recent years, Tuohy said that the number of NFL games decided in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter have risen sharply. This, he said, may be a means of insuring advertisers have equal exposure throughout game broadcasts.
“They may not even have to alter the outcome of a game,” Tuohy said. “Just keep it close, and that’s a good thing for them.”
A League of Shadows
The NFL has waged aggressive campaigns against those that have sought to “expose” it’s more unsightly doings, Tuohy said. He brings up investigative journalist Dan Moldea, who alleged that NFL “security guards” followed him during the press tour for his 1989 book, “Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football.”
“The NFL went out of their way, as a smear campaign, to destroy that book,” Tuohy said. “They actually hired someone…to write a negative review of the book in The New York Times.”
Tuohy said the league is guilty of employing the same tactics against “its enemies” today.
“Anybody who dare questions what it is the NFL does in whatever realm it is,” Tuohy said, “they will go after them to protect their money and protect their game and pull out all the stops if need be to do so.”
Of course, Tuohy doesn’t believe corruption is limited to just the NFL; he also accuses other leagues and associations, such as the NBA, NHL and even NASCAR, of similar shady practices.
“ESPN doesn’t do the investigative reporting they should, because they fund all these leagues,” he said. “And if you’re giving $1 billion a year to the NFL…they’re not going to seriously investigate that.”
In his attempts to “out” the league, Tuohy said he’s ran into the same problem the FBI has: a frustrating lack of physical evidence.
“Nobody signed a contract that said ‘I agreed to fix this game,’” Tuohy said. “Even if money has exchanged hands, it’s not necessarily concrete evidence.”
Ad even if a prominent NFL figure -- a player, a coach, a referee -- admitted that they “threw” a contest? Tuohy believes it’s unlikely the sports media would believe him.
“Everybody has a bad game,” Tuohy said. “The FBI looked at game film for some of their investigations, and they couldn’t make heads or tails of it, because who’s to say the guy didn’t have a bad game as a coincidence?”
That said, Tuohy said he isn’t alone in his sneaking suspicions that something is amiss in “America’s Game.” He said he receives countless e-mails from fellow fans, all of whom also believe there may be some shady happenings in the sports world.
“I think there’s more people out there like this than other fans assume,” Tuohy said. “There’s something that’s not being examined, and it’s just too coincidental. And I don’t believe when you have a $10 billion business, which is what the NFL is, you allow everything to be just coincidence, when you can control it.”
Uncommon Journalism, 2013.