Now might be a good time to think about the future of the Hall of Fame game.
Today ESPN reported that the 2020 Hall of Fame preseason football game between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers has been canceled due to COVID-19. The Hall of Fame ceremony has been postponed as well.
The news comes after Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said last week that holding the preseason game in Canton with fans would be “highly unlikely,” “It would just be extremely dangerous. It really wouldn’t make any sense to do it.”
The Hall of Fame game usually kicks off the NFL preseason in early August. This year, the game was slated for Aug. 6. It’s the first NFL game to be canceled due to the pandemic.
But this is not the first time the Hall of Fame Game has been scrapped. Just in the past decade, the game has been canceled due to an NFL lockout (2011) and due to poor turf conditions (2016).
Over the years, TV ratings for the game have dropped. Last year’s game between the Broncos and the Falcons was one of the least-watched Hall of Fame games of all time.
Despite a low TV rating, NFL fans in Canton usually show up. For the past decade, the average attendance at the Hall of Fame game has hovered around 20 thousand. Not bad for a stadium that holds 23K. Still, the audience in Canton would fill a third of the NFL’s smallest stadium.
Unlike other preseason games where starters play a few downs a quarter, or even a full half, star players in the Hall of Fame game tend to sit out completely.
Since the 2011 lockout, starting NFL QBs have completed a total of 21 passes in the Hall of Fame game. That’s around one completed pass per starter, per year. What football fan wants to watch that?
The cancellation of the Hall of Fame game proves just how unnecessary it is in the scope of the NFL season. Remember, players are still expected to arrive at training camp in late July, teams will likely play a shortened preseason, and the regular season is still slated to start on September 10. Even Hard Knocks is planning to bring their production crews into two NFL locker rooms during a pandemic. But no Hall of Fame game.
While there are some economic incentives for Canton to keep the Hall of Fame game with ticket sales and tourism revenue, there isn’t any point to keeping the game as it currently stands. It can still be the first on the preseason calendar, but it does not have to be an extra, fifth game for teams.
Maybe the format of the game could be reworked to simulate different in-game scenarios. How about a quarter of red-zone only drives? Or the elimination of extra point field goal tries? The Hall of Fame game could be the one time a year for the NFL to test proposed rules. Format changes alone may never bring in a gigantic audience. It could, however, help the NFL garner more attention in August.
But with declining ratings and poor play, would NFL fans really care if the league scrapped the Hall of Fame game for good?