Doing a Number on Logic

Enough with the big numbers already. By some weird juxtaposition of the stars, themselves far too numerous to count, we’ve been overwhelmed in recent days by big numbers, numbers so large that mere mortal minds cannot comprehend them. Election numbers, Mars numbers, TV numbers, budget numbers. They loom large, then smoothly slip beyond comprehension like those hurried disclaimers in the car ads.

Take the National Football League. Great sport. Skillfully run. Magnificently packaged. Violence, greed, tight pants on the field, loose tops on the sidelines. Bright colors. Very American.

But 11,500,000,000 dollar bills?

That’s what TV networks will fork over for the right to keep us on our couches on many summer, fall and winter Sundays for six more years. Billions more will flow from separate Sunday/Monday night deals. $11.5 billion? Peek in your wallet right now. Maybe two, three dozen dollars? Let’s see, each football billion is a thousand millions and each million is a thousand thousands. And you’ve got two twenties there now so that means ....


How does this work again? We overpay for, say, cable TV and, um, we’ve overpaid. The networks overpay for games to draw an audience so they can sell ads so they can lose money again, but stay in the sports prestige race? Now they will overpay even more, presumably in the hopes of losing less. When does this lovely logic start working in our lives, please? At least Rupert Murdoch can claim he has a strong network to show for his NFL losses, because a main reason Fox is fledgling no more is it used games to peddle its prime-time offerings.

Still, do you realize how many weeks of sweaty beer ads we’re going to watch in coming years to pay for all this? How many glistening days of SUVs on a soaked beach?

Imagine what the NFL could charge if it had the draw of a nasty presidential campaign. About 116 million people voted. That’s almost as many as take the 405 whenever you do. “The Incredibles” reaped nearly $71 million at the box office in a few first days. Francesco Giambelli paid $41,000 for one restaurant mushroom the other day, albeit a 2.4-pound mushroom. Have you seen the latest federal deficit numbers? Soon we’ll be into reforming Social Security again, if only because the system’s daily liabilities by 2050 will exceed even the NFL’s TV money then of, oh, about $1 billion a game.