The NFL's High-Water Mark: Rome Is Falling

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The NFL's High-Water Mark: Rome Is Falling
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It appears the NFL has finally out-priced itself.

The first-place Bengals, fresh off of a near-perfect game against the Bears, are still 4,500 tickets away from selling out this Sunday against the Ravens. The logically impulsive thing to do is stand up, point at Mike Brown, and call him a vicious opportunist who preys on the American addiction of entertainment and distraction.

At these words, Brown would likely lean back in his chair, wipe his mouth with a white linen napkin, and agree that he is indeed one hell of a capitalist.  Though as tempting as it is to carry on detailing the swinish attributes of our favorite team's owner, it is actually another greedy hog—a Texan-sized boar rolling around in his mud puddles of cash and wealth—who is more to blame for our potential blackout this Sunday than Big Daddy Brown.

Sure, the recession has a lot to do with it.  But it is Jerry Jones and his Dallas palace of decadence and excess that has raised the average cost of attending a football game like no other money-wallowing slug before him. It's caused most of the other owners to jack up their own rates, trying to keep pace with the league's average ticket price that swelled from last year thanks to the new, exorbitant cost of a Cowboys game.

While scores of Americans stoop and settle for new lows in order to find work, Jones moved ahead with a new venue for entertainment that smacks of the Roman Coliseum. Not in style or architecture, however, but in effect and general silliness. Perhaps Jones is the modern Caligula, leading a blind charge into a millennium of scarce natural resource and less common sense.

I agree it's a brazen move. Unveiling a structure the size of the Death Star during the worst economic climate in the last 80 years takes balls. Jerry Jones will probably tell you that he can spend $1.2 billion on his football team because he always makes the most of what he has to work with.

I suppose that's true; no one can blame him for living out the dream that I and many others fantasized about in the backseat on the way to school. The frosted side in me thinks having your own football stadium would be so awesome! But the shredded wheat side thinks $40 parking is morally unconscionable.

Jones is simply a triumph of this American market-driven society because he, and the other Stone Cutters like him, continue to push ahead and exceed the limits of what can be done with more money. It's estimated that a family of four spends over $750 on a game at Cowboy Stadium—yet the season is sold out. He's providing exactly the kind of entertainment that we as a country are so desperately addicted to, yet we may be reaching a tipping point back to sanity.

This weekend marks the third time in five chances this year where it will take some outside financial boosting from a player or local corporation to sell enough Bengal tickets in order to see the damn thing on television. After beating the Steelers in Week Three, many figured that would open up the bandwagon again; fans would gobble up tickets to the remaining games, and all would be well in the universe.

Not so. I thought that after last week's drubbing of Chicago, fans would want to see that kind of football poetry unfold before them in person, but that's still not the case.

Compared to the league average, the cost of a game in Cincinnati is very reasonable and is actually less expensive than last year. Is the recession the reason the games aren't selling out this season? Based on other cities of comparable market size, like Green Bay and Indianapolis both selling out their games so far, I think it runs deeper than that.

Maybe 2008 taught Cincinnati a lesson; autumn Sundays exist even without football—or at least watchable football. Once the losses piled up and the putrid stench of the corpse that was last season became too much to endure, many people turned away from the television and found something else to do. As a result, the city as a whole no longer seems to jones for the sport anymore. The $70 price-tag for an average ticket has become too steep to shell out for these people, and why not? Football can't matter that much, can it?

Any economic turbulence the NFL may feel is somewhat self-imposed by the demand for pricey stadiums and the endless player payrolls, but we as fans allowed this rampant gouging to reach these ridiculous proportions, as well. Society shoveled gobs of money into the mouth of the sports entertainment monster for the past 20 or so years—never blinking as we handed over more and more spending cash to friendly people behind glass ticket-windows. The League enjoyed a golden era of team parity that super-charged the sport's popularity and league-wide sellouts became a weekly certainty; the nation was hooked and thought of ignoring your team became simply implausible.

Then the stock market wavered and for one beat of a hummingbird's wing, our way of life was jeopardized. Being the reactionary society we are, Americans reevaluated the costs of entertainment, and some of the more luxurious elements of our life were cut. Electronic appliance stores, investment firms, professional sporting leagues, and other meaningless nonsense all felt the wave of the national skimping.

The NFL scurried to push ahead, attempting the razor-fine balancing act of fan enthusiasm on one side and contractual commitments to owners and television companies on the other. Then Jerry Jones goes and builds the NFL's own mini Las Vegas—equipped with cage dancers and penthouse suites—and jacks up the market, making it more difficult for everyone else involved.

As much as I enjoy watching my beloved Bengals on television every Sunday, it's probably a good thing that people refuse to go broke by keeping a pricey league of entertainment afloat. Team owners and player-agents would likely say that the market drives the costs of the league and it's the people's demand that dictates the market, but it appears that the people in Cincinnati have said to hell with the NFL and it's market by staying home to engage in other activities.

Perhaps priorities are beginning to shift around here; whether this takes hold or is just a passing trend that simply reflects a recession awaits to be seen.

Mojokong—if they aren't televised, we should all go play football, instead.

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