NFL Labor Issues: How Annoyed Fans Can Make Themselves Heard by the Owners

Caleb GarlingCorrespondent IMarch 15, 2011

Give it back
Give it backMatt Ludtke/Getty Images

Last week I wrote a playful conspiracy theory column about this NFL player/owner circus, but because I’m a moron and wasn’t paying attention after it posted, the piece was lost in B/R Space due to incorrect tagging. You can read it here.

Even though I was wrong about the deadline extension, I still stick to my theory that we’re watching something of a charade.

Whatever’s behind it, this labor dispute will end. However the piles of cash are divided, the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE will be back on our televisions, on our favorite sports sites and in our cities again. Both the players and the owners will go back to making truckloads of cash. Of course they will.

But let’s remember: We pay the owners’ salary. Whether with tickets and merchandising or renting out our eyes and ears for advertisements, we—We—generate money for the NFL. We, believe it or not, are The Boss. This isn’t the sketchy world of finance where the NFL could conjure 100,000 Ticket Default Swaps out of thin air. The Fan is the fulcrum of the transaction.

In today’s games, that’s actually “why they play the games” (sadly enough).

So we have a right to demand better of our vendor. The entire league is making the bet that however annoyed we get with the perpetual coverage of the labor dispute, we’ll be back in front of the Sunday tube. They’re probably right.

So what can we do as one Fanbase instead of get off the couch?

Here are some measures for the NFL Fan Association—though this is not a union so much as a customer support group.


Go easy on the merchandise

I’ll say it: New jerseys aren’t cool anymore. They aren’t. Even if you’re a Packers fan and the girlfriend gives you Aaron Rodgers’, it’s not that cool. Why? Because everyone else just got one too. Vintage jerseys are the only ones that count. Sorry. It’s true. If your team lands Cam Newton and you go out and grab his jersey, you know what you look like? A sucker.

Because we’re getting wise to the business. These $100 gimmicks are nothing more than the best marketing material money (we) can buy. We’re on to the idea that players change their numbers to re-up sales; we’re aware that players have a (very) slight incentive to change teams for the same reason. It’s that same nagging feeling we get when we have to spend a bunch of money on baby clothes: “This is too much cash for something with such a short shelf life.”

Also, the likelihood of free agency or a guy’s true character sabotaging our purchase is too high. I have a man-crush on Patrick Willis but haven’t bought his jersey; the thought of him roaming someone else’s midway prevents me. Or how about the Packers fans who clean their puppy’s messes with Brett Favre jerseys?

Finally, consider the irony that the only t-shirt you care about keeping super clean is a sports jersey.

So wait it out, starve the league of your cash and spend that money on a night out, your kids or a better TV. Don’t waste it on a relic-in-waiting. Only make the purchase when a guy’s proved he’s a treasured piece of team history—then get it off eBay.

(And you folks that get your own name on the back of a jersey: On behalf of everyone who’s less dorky, you didn’t get drafted. Sorry.)


Avoid the logo

Some blogs have discussed this, and it's probably the easiest. When you're shopping and see "Official Sponsor of the NFL," how often does that product not have a perfectly good alternative? Almost never. Deodorant, sports drinks, razors, beer, pizza, soda, candy bars—they all have competitors that are just as good as the ones paying to have the NFL shield next to their brand. Treat that shield like "Organically Grown" or "Sustainably Made"...only the opposite (and with an actual definition).


Keep the competition in the game

Put baseball, basketball and hockey on, even if just in the background. Yes, the NBA has a few bad apples; yes, baseball can be boring; yes, following the puck can be tricky. But these are great, great sports, people. Don’t let your friends write them off for you.

More importantly, we’re keeping the NFL’s competitors in the game; we’re strengthening their ratings and weakening the NFL’s advertising monopoly, while, if we’re open-minded, diversifying our sporting knowledge. Win-win.

(Also, I’ll bet you a Zdeno Chara slap shot to the groin that if you got into hockey—once you find it on TV—you’d realize how relatively boring football can be. Which leads me to...)


There is a reason Tostitos is an NFL sponsor

You know when you’re in the grocery store and you look at the Tostitos and you stare for a moment and you say, “Sh-t. That massive bag is actually only a quarter full of chips?"

There was a study in The Wall Street Journal that showed the amount of actual NFL “played” during a 60-minute game is...11 minutes. What? Over a 60-minute football game we only get 11 minutes of snap to whistle action? Edited correctly, you could watch an entire game on the can. At least in basketball and hockey, the clock only moves when the action is...actioning. Forty-eight and 60 minutes mean 48 and 60 minutes. I don’t have to tell you what takes up a third of a three-hour football game.

Whether we’ve got stuff to do on a Sunday or we’re sick and tired of them, many of us DVR/TiVo games and fast-forward through commercials.

But there are two scenarios where avoiding ads is trickier: Watching at a bar (where no one can touch the remote) or watching with a large group of friends (where the guy with the remote often isn't paying attention).

So now I ask:

Silicon Valley, India, China, Cambridge, whoever—why haven’t you guys invented a device that goes between our cable box and our TV and automatically mutes and dims the screen when commercials come on and throws the sound to an iPod or, better yet, puts on trivia or something interesting? Hell, random YouTube clips would be fine. How the world’s inventors haven’t created devices to divert our attention to something more interesting during commercials is a little baffling.

Quit worrying about trying to beat Google. There is money to be made elsewhere. There is nothing in our contracts as fans that says we’ll watch commercials.

“You’re sitting on a gold mine, Trebek!”



If you’re paying attention, you’ll point out, “Great ideas, moron. Now there is less revenue flowing into the NFL. Won’t the owners then stop work again to renegotiate and get their cut of the pie again?”

I would argue, that if done correctly, no, they wouldn’t.

Because if NFL fans can prove that they’ll happily organize—that they can have a cohesive voice—the league won’t drag this crap out into the public again. They’ll solve it behind closed doors. If you actually hit them in the wallet, they’ll respond; they’ll hear us. As far as I can tell, guys like Dan Snyder carry themselves as if we watch “at the leisure” of the owners. The game wouldn’t happen without them. We are lucky to have them getting our teams onto TV.

Does that make any sense?

No. Basic economics says someone will do it if these guys don’t. Where there is demand, there will be supply. We just need to be more strategic with how we, as The Fans, create that demand.


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