What Could the N.F.L. Learn From the World Cup?

The World Cup final was both predictable (Italy’s comeback and eventual triumph after the early French goal) and bizarre (Zinedine Zidane’s farewell head-butt). Not a great game but not bad.

The consolation match on Saturday, between Germany and Portugal, wasn’t much more exciting — except for the hometown German fans, who saw their young team secure third place in the tournament with a 3-1 victory.

But even if you weren’t a Germany fan, it was nice to have one extra game after getting hooked on all this soccer over the past few weeks.

Which led me to think: why doesn’t the N.F.L. have a consolation game?

It could be held the Saturday afternoon before the Super Bowl, presumably in the same stadium. Imagine the N.F.L. held such a game this year. It would have matched the losers of the conference championship games, the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers. Not the most exciting matchup imaginable — but, as with the World Cup, with a nation of TV fans having followed the teams through the regular season and playoffs, I’d imagine there would be plenty of interest. And plenty of money to be made for the N.F.L. and the many other people who have a piece of the football pie.

You could surely object to this idea on the grounds that the Broncos and Panthers, having lost in the conference championships, just want to go home and couldn’t work up the vigor to play another game. But hey: this is the league that sends its all-stars to a Pro Bowl after the season, in Hawaii, a game that absolutely nobody watches. And yet they still go, and they still play it.

The N.C.A.A. used to hold a consolation game during its Final Four weekend, but I believe it was abandoned it in the early 1980’s. I think the N.F.L. would do a good enough job with a Consolation Bowl that it would become part of the fabric of what has become Super Bowl weekend. And by creating a 3rd and 4th place finisher in the N.F.L., the Consolation Bowl would make 2nd place — i.e., the Super Bowl loser — a bit more meaningful, whereas now everyone complains that no one ever remembers the loser of a Super Bowl.

Considering how adept the N.F.L. is at maximizing profits, goodwill, and opportunity, I’m guessing this idea has already come up for conversation at league HQ plenty of times. Here’s hoping that Paul Tagliabue, the forward-thinking outgoing N.F.L. boss, watched enough World Cup to think that it might be worth giving it a try.


I think the value in preventing injury keeps the NFL from adopting any sort of consolation game. Even the Pro Bowl has its detractors and the competition in that game is non-existent given the desire to avoid injury.


Wicham makes the correct point about injuries. Stephen, I think you're forgetting that a ton of elected to the probowl don't actually go. They get "injured" before the game.

And while I absolutely love the idea of another football game, I just don't think people will get up for it. The superbowl has been billed for so long as THE event in the NFL, that any attempt to add to it / dilute it, will fail.

Think of the World Cup as what it actually is -- the World Cup Championship. You don't see the people not invited to Germany playing on TV these weeks, do you? FIFA has billed the World Cup Championship as THE event in soccer, so it, not the final game, is the correct analogue to the superbowl. In my opinion, of course.


Yeah, it's all about the injuries. No one watches the Pro Bowl because it's not real football, it's an injury avoidance festival. And they still had to move it to Hawaii just to get a decent number of players to show up. Who would want to go full speed in the Consolation Bowl? Third place games only work in less violent sports.


I think the injury threat is huge in football, so it might be hard. But if the right incentives were there, you might get players and teams to agree. Money for the players, with more going to the winners of the consolation game. And what if the team that won got to draft before the team that lost the consolation game? Or let the winner of the consolation game choose their bye week for the next year?

Ken D.

Ah, young fellas, let a gray-beard born in the Truman administration let you in on some ancient lore -- it was tried in the 1960's; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Playoff_Bowl. The fact that it has so cleanly disappeared from memory gives you a sense of how compelling an idea is was.


Watching the World Cup on the BBC in Great Britain we had the advantage of the wise words of summariser Martin O'Neil. At half time on Saturday night, during Germany v Portugal Martin declared the 3rd place playoff "the most pointless game of football in the world". I think that Martin accurately describes the feelings of many football fans.


Besides, with the World Cup, you have to wait 4 years to get another shot. In the NFL, you only need to wait 1 year before not making it to the superbowl again.


Like most sports tournaments, the World Cup and the NFL Playoffs are decided by a bracket. There are no second place, third place, etc. teams, but only a champion. The 1999-2000 NFL season is a good example of this. In the Superbowl, the Baltimore Ravens killed the NY Giants. From any objective eye, the AFC's Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders were much better teams than the Giants. The Giants were not the second best team; they were the best team in the NFC. So in almost every sports bracket, there is no second place, just a champion and a bunch of almost champions.


One problem may be that the consolation game is the easiest to fix. After all, who really cares if he finishes 3rd or 4th? I was under the impression that was the rationale behind eliminating it from the NCAA tourney. I wonder if the data justifies that scenario about the NCAAs.


I'd say the bigger problem is not that the NFL lacks a Consolation Bowl, but rather that the typical 3-hour game consists of about 12 to 16 minutes of actual play and a VAST number of TV commercials for cars, beer and Levitra.


i think a consolation game is a bad idea in any tournament.

sure people will watch it (they'll watch almost anything that has to do with their team), but it has no competitive value. what was the meaning of Germany winning against Portugal?

if the NFL wants to extract more value they can lengthen the regular season.


I think there could be some value in a consolation game. When they tried it in the 60's, they played the game the week after the Super Bowl. Talk about a pointless game: a game after the fact, when many will stop keeping up with football all together (as is the case with the Pro Bowl, in my opinion).

If they played the game the Saturday before, or get this...the same day as...the Super Bowl, I think it would draw a crowd. Will they play all-out, full contact? Probably not, but if two smaller market teams (Carolina, Seattle, Jacksonville) made the Super Bowl, and two larger market teams bit the dust (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Indy), a consolation game might be worth it.


Injuries are a much more valid reason not to have the game than its pointlessness. As avneron pointed out, people will watch anything to do with their teams, so getting an extra game has value for these fans, and of course for advertisers as well. After all, people still get excited about College Bowl games even if their team has no shot at a title. College players are also risking a lot more in terms of injury although there incentive to perform their best is greater also (potential of being drafted).

All in all, I like the idea. I'd much rather watch the real Broncos play the real Panthers than watch Terry Bradshaw and Jimmy Johnson simulate it on Madden 2005. Talk about pointless.


The consolation game is like the Final Four consolation game that existed for years.

There is nothing like the sap feeling of watching a third place game while wondering 'What the hell happened?' in the semifinal.

Believe me, a consolation game is not a good thing...for the players, coaches, and more importantly the fans. It's the ultimate fete of the famous 'kissing your sister' cliche.



As other posters noted, the NFL and the NCAA college basketball people had consolation games.

The NCAA basketball people also tried an interesting twist. In the early 1970's, when there could be only ONE team from a conference in the NCAA tournament, they organized a second tournament with the second place teams: 2nd in the Big Ten, 2nd in the ACC, 2nd in the Pac 10, etc. In part, this was to keep more good teams providing $ to the NCAA rather than the competing NIT tournament. This was called the Collegiate Commissioners Association Tournament, first won by Indiana in 1974. They changed the name in 1975.

A tournament consisting of a bunch of second place teams was a truly awful idea, and led to the NCAA tournament itself being expanded so multiple teams from the same conference could play. In the first year, two teams from the same conference met for the championship (Indiana defeating Michigan).

That formula has been wildly successful.



Some people referred to the NFL's "Playoff Bowl". Now I do agree that injuries and motivation would be a problem, but I should point out that things didn't exactly revert back to how they were before the Playoff Bowl. Rather, once they added a postseason they removed the game. So really the NFL moved in the direction of more consolation games and not fewer.


Oh, although I find the idea intriguing, I also wanted to say that playing in the same stadium before the superbowl is pretty unrealistic. Between rehearsals for Half time shows and the National Anthem, and all the player interviews, it's already plenty busy I believe. And I think they want the field itself to be in pristine condition and not torn up from the previous game.


I'm sorry to say, but I think you're all missing the point. The problem is, that in the World Cup a triadic format (the fight for gold, silver and bronce) meets a bracket system. Somebody is allways going to be left out.
The match between Germany and Portugal was NOT a consolation game, but a very important game for medals (bronce). Since the NFL does not give out medals but a trophy, the consolation game would indeed be pointless in football.


I like the idea of a consolation game if there is something to "play for" (outside of pride). The Rugby World Cup, which happens every four years, has done this well. They play a 3rd place game where the winner automatically qualifies for the next world cup - avoiding the arduous qualification process.


Why don't we just have the NFL teams kick field goals to determine the second and third place finishers. This way it will definitely remind us of the World Cup and the players won't get injured. Oh, one more thing, 'helmets' in football are a good thing. Hear that Zidane!