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Why the NFL Deserves A Thanksgiving Scolding

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- It's a day that kicks off with a national retail chain leading a parade of brands and corporate interests through the center of Manhattan and continues with the richest sporting league in the country taking up nearly 12 consecutive hours of network air time.

Remind us again why we're supposed to be angry that Wal-Mart , Sears , Target , Old Navy , Best Buy , Toys R Us, Kohl's and countless other shops will be open Thanksgiving Night?

We can't begrudge Macy's its Thanksgiving Day Parade, but we do find it a bit odd that the retailer that's been hosting this parade for 87 years; stocks it with balloons and floats that are giant ads for AFLAC, McDonald's, Pillsbury, Sony Pictures, Hess, Hilton, Delta, Domino Sugar and more; and sticks Santa Claus at the end of it just to drive home the point that it's time to start Christmas shopping catches flak only for having the gall to open its stores for business that evening. The parade's role in the Santa-centric film Miracle on 34th Street has been part of the U.S. holiday canon for 66 years, but gets a pass for lamenting "com-MOI-cialism" in the same breath that it gives Macy's publicity.

Maybe nearly 90 years of that Thanksgiving morning song-and-dance routine have just normalized the experience, but the consensus is that we can't do much about it now. Nor can we really bemoan the National Football League's Thanksgiving afternoon and evening match-ups. The league has been playing football on Thanksgiving since 1920, and the annual appearances by the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions date back to 1966 and 1934 respectively. Lions ownership was initially nervous about playing on Thanksgiving, but it had just moved the team from Portsmouth, Ohio, and needed to make a name for itself in its new hometown. Getting a game against the rival Chicago Bears on that date and broadcasting it over the radio did just the trick.

If you're looking for a scapegoat in the War On Thanksgiving, though, don't look at the stores that are taking your aunt and uncle away from the table before dessert, look at the NFL night game that's moved platefuls of that dinner to the living room since 2006. Seven years ago, the NFL had the grand idea of adding a third game to the Thanksgiving slate to go up against a weak ESPN college football offering and a faceless slate of college basketball match-ups.

Originally, the 8:30 p.m. EST game was confined to the league's own, modestly adopted cable channel -- the NFL Network. In 2011, a Thanksgiving night matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens drew nearly 10.7 million viewers and nearly tripled ESPN's ratings for college football. The next year, the league shifted the game to 8 p.m. EST on NBC and watched the audience for a New England Patriots blowout of the New York Jets grow to nearly 16 million.