NFL Lockout: From Lockout to Blackouts, the NFL's 7 Deadly Sins
As the NFL lockout drags on, reports say that season-ticket sales may or may not be suffering as a result of the ongoing strife that threatens the most cherished portion of the American sports calendar—pro football season.
Whether those ticket sales are in fact a little ahead or behind their usual pace, for most NFL fans, one thing is clear: While we may be mad as hell about the labor battle, we have every intention of taking it some more.
We’re gobbling up news about player-organized workouts with the same voracity we usually devour reports from team-organized mini camps. We’re waiting on the edge of our seat for Plaxico Burress to walk out of jail, then breathlessly speculating that his Phillies ball cap may be an indication of his free-agent destination (anybody else think he likes the hat because his name starts with the letter P?).
We just love NFL football too much. The action is just too exciting and intense, the game-day camaraderie of beers and BBQs with friends too fun, for us to turn our backs on.
NFL, we just can’t quit you.
But the lockout is just the latest in a list of abuses—all motivated by short-sighted greed—the mighty League has levied upon its fans. Will the piper one day be paid? Will fans one day decide the league’s transgressions are too much?
Could we see the day the NFL falls from its seemingly impregnable perch as the most popular sport in the U.S.?
I believe the answer is yes—not soon, but someday, the NFL will pay for these, its seven deadly sins.
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first, and quickly, for it is the most detestable of all, and really quite a simple story.
We’ve heard it before: Billionaires and millionaires are fighting each other for every last crumb of a massive, delicious profit pie.
Meanwhile, the league’s fans—us thousandaires—sit watching, and we could not care less about the final terms of the agreement, so long as one is reached in time to give us a football season.
As in almost every labor negotiation with such high stakes, in sports or otherwise, an agreement is not likely to come before the absolute last minute—and most likely until after that last minute has passed. In high-stakes labor brinksmanship, moving before then constitutes an unwise concession of leverage.
But to kill an entire season would take too much money out of both sides’ pockets—particularly the players’.
So a deal will be made, but not until it absolutely has to, and we will have a 2011 football season—even if it is likely to be an abbreviated one.
Yeah, we know, NFL. If we want to see the game and it isn’t sold out, we should go buy a ticket.
But maybe you’ve heard that times are tough out there right now—actually, you’ve definitely heard it, you just haven’t really felt it yourselves.
So say in a tough market you can’t find enough suckers to shell out the $70-plus for an average ticket, the $20 to park, and the $10 to $30 that exits the wallet with every visit to the concession stand…
Is the best way to convince the customer that your product is worth the cash to NOT SHOW IT to them?!
The diehard fan may respond to a threatened blackout by rushing out his front door to buy a ticket, but how about the young kid in Miami whose favorite athlete is Dwyane Wade and who has never really gotten into the Dolphins because they’ve basically sucked his whole life?
Is not showing him the game really the best call there?
No—it’s short-sighted and greedy, and will cost the NFL fans in the long run.
NFL Sunday Ticket
At least the NFL fan who wants to guarantee that he gets every single game in his house every single weekend can make it happen, if he’s willing to shell out $500-plus, thanks to NFL Sunday Ticket.
Oh wait…he can’t?!! No, he can’t, because the blackout rule incredibly, incomprehensibly, extends to those who shell out that astronomical sum for the ultimate NFL TV package.
But let’s not limit this slide to an extended rant on the inane blackout rule. Sunday Ticket is truly a screwjob because it is only available on DirecTV.
DirecTV, home to weird issues about local channels and satellite reception that cable users don’t have to worry about, has been the exclusive home of NFL Sunday Ticket since the package’s inception. In fact, with the expansion of options available on cable TV, the exclusive right to NFL Sunday Ticket is one of the main reasons DirecTV is still around.
DirecTV pays the NFL billions for the license, thus ensuring its own relevance, and the ultimate loser is, of course, the fan who can’t get it because he doesn’t want to deal with satellite BS or because he lives in a city where dish reception is impossible.
ESPN’s Gregg Easterbrook has gone so far as to suggest that the NFL’s exclusive deal with DirecTV is an unlawful monopoly, and that the U.S. Congress should intervene.
Public Funding for New Stadiums
I’m going to be brief with this one too because it makes me teeth-grindingly mad.
NFL owners (who are billionaires, as we’ve mentioned) frequently demand financing assistance for new stadiums—new stadiums that are not truly necessary to improve fan experience, but to avail the owners of new revenue streams such as luxury suites, endorsement partnerships, seat licenses, etc. They demand this help from the public, their thousandaire fans, usually under the threat of picking the team up and heading elsewhere.
While it’s true that even most billionaires can’t afford the cost of building a new football stadium out of their own pocket, they are most certainly capable of parlaying their personal wealth and the value of the franchise into financing to build a stadium.
But that involves a little bit of work and a little bit of risk. Why bother when you can just threaten taxpayers to fork it over, or else lose their big-league football team?
I love almost every single thing about NFL Network—the constant availability of NFL highlights, the condensed replays of games with the postgame commentary added in, the NFL Films productions… It’s all NFL, all the time! I love the NFL! It’s awesome!
The problem is Thursday Night Football, and the fact everyone can’t see it—again, because of greed.
The NFL has been battling cable and satellite providers around the country for years over how carriers program NFL Network and how much they pay to do so, and this game of hardball has left millions of fans around the country without the channel.
Of course, MLB and the NBA also have their own networks that are available to varying degrees, and I’m not complaining about them. But again, most NFL teams only play 16 games, while baseball and basketball teams crank out 162 and 82, respectively.
So when the NFL takes one of those 16 games away from fans of a certain team, out of a desire to snatch a piece of the money pie away from the established TV networks and put that cash in the league's own pocket—thus depriving their fans of one of the 16 games that truly qualify as “events” in those fans’ lives—it’s shortsighted and greedy, and it will haunt them in the long run.
Preseason Ticket Prices
Attending a preseason NFL game is one of the more depressing spectacles in sports. Often taking place at weird, inappropriate times for NFL football such as Friday or Saturday nights, preseason NFL games play out in half-full stadiums with fans halfheartedly cheering for players they’ve never heard of.
When you realize that you’ve paid a full, regular season price for the ticket—which the NFL requires teams to charge—that’s when depression truly sets in.
It was from these sad preseason spectacles—and fans' outrage at paying full price for them—that the idea for the 18-game regular season originally sprang.
The NFL could have rectified the situation by taking any number of steps that would have helped improve the preseason ticket situation, such as allowing teams to charge lower prices, or prohibiting them from forcing season-ticket buyers to pay for preseason games as part of their packages.
But either of those moves would have taken money out of NFL owners’ pockets, so they dreamed up a solution they thought would quiet the concerns while keeping the revenue stream flowing strong: convert two of those preseason games into regular season games.
When fans and players—who are apparently a little smarter than the NFL gives them credit for—howled that such a change would decrease the quality of a regular season that has already become a war of injury-avoidance attrition, the idea was eventually scrapped.
But the fact they had the idea in the first place shows that the fan experience and integrity of the game rank pretty low on NFL owners’ list of priorities.
For the NFL’s seventh deadly sin, pick your favorite from the following:
Personal seat licenses: For the right price, you can purchase the right to purchase tickets at a later time. What a deal!
Ticket bundles: Many NFL teams force ticket buyers seeking seats for high-profile or “rivalry” games to also purchase tickets to less-attractive games. The NFL: Where Coercion Happens.
Secondary markets: Most NFL TV markets only get two or three games each Sunday morning/afternoon. You’d think one game would be your local team, and then the other would be the best game happening that Sunday, right?
Wrong. You’re usually gonna get some crap game from within your local team’s division, or the next-closest team to your market.
Don’t like it? Go get a satellite dish and NFL Sunday Ticket, sucker!!