Wednesday, March 16, 2011

NFL 2011: Greed 1 Fans 0

There was a time when my world revolved around baseball.

It was during the late eighties, an era before the internet, 24-hour sports channels with constant sports score crawlers and automatic text messages giving inning by inning play.

In order to learn how my Houston Astros fared in their rainbow-bright uniforms, I would feverishly flip channels during the 10 PM news. When really desperate I would turn on an old shortwave radio to pick up an armed services channel carrying a game and hope that the commentators would pass a score along.

The first thing I would do in the morning when arriving at school was make a bee-line for the library to peruse the USA Today Sports section (which contained more finals than the Times Picayune).

I was pretty damned obsessed but I was cured by Donald Fehr, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association. The union chief called a players’ strike over owners’ plans to implement a badly needed salary cap.

While I do still love the game, the fire that was once a conflagration is now a votive candle for the passion I once had for baseball.

The union “won” and played resumed slightly delayed the following season though the game suffered. 1994 could have been one of the most special seasons in the modern era.

So it goes without saying that I am not exactly sympathetic to player unions.

There is a single exception.

The bull the NFL owners are trying to pull over the players is ludicrous. The owners are demanding a free billion dollars, a rookie pay scale that shifts the savings back to their pockets and not deserving players who signed on the cheap and have played above their compensation level and my least favorite aspect, the 18-game regular season.

What’s disgusting is how the league has dressed the latter up as “something for the fans”. Are they serious?

If the owners wanted to be generous to those who fill the stadiums, buy their merchandise and pay $4 for a fifty-cent bottle of water, they could bring concession prices down. But that’ll happen when Al Davis gets awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (though they’ve given it to less deserving).

Their “favor” would generate additional television revenue off of week three and four preseason contests that go largely ignored. The 18-game season was a gambit intended to win the fans over to the owners’ side, though their self-interest in the matter is so blatant that there hasn’t been a tidal wave of “thank you” notes pouring into team headquarters from fans.

And what are the players asking for? The exact same deal that’s worked out so well for one and all for the past several years. And if things are not going so swell as the NFL claims, then full financial disclosure proving that this billion-dollar entertainment juggernaut is somehow just scrimping by.

I think only the folks at Arthur Andersen could produce books that say that, if you catch my drift.

The owners will probably win the standoff. First, they have more resources at their disposal from either their accrued wealth or from their other business endeavors.

By contrast, I would imagine quite a few players have lived beyond their means in the expectation that they will make more later. Or in the case of the extremely naïve, that they will actually see the full return on their incentive laden contracts.

Secondly, the owners can control the debate better than the players. They also have their own in-house spokesmen and media operation (the NFL Network). As there are only 32 owners, it’s easier for them to get on the same page while there are thousands of players out there who have had trouble reining in their tweets during football contests. To say nothing about their equally loose-lipped agents, who are also feeling the pinch.

Though times will be tight, I think the players can win this war of wills if they have discipline, curtail their personal spending and have everyone saying the same thing and nothing more, reminding the fans that unlike 1987, the players are not on strike but are being locked out by management.

Sports talk radio has simplified this dispute as a fight between billionaires and millionaires; I don’t think that’s fair since not all players see the big money. It’s about trusting but verifying and not surrendering ground just because the owners think this is a capital time to get a larger piece of the pie at the expense of shorter playing careers and defiling impressive statistical achievements by some of the games greats.

I often ask myself why I spend so much money annually to watch something in person when I could watch the same thing from the comfort of my home for free…and in the case of my nosebleed seats, with a better view as well.

There’s something about being there. When I pay my $70 or so per game ticket, I’m not just there witnessing, I’m participating. I’m making noise to disrupt an opposing offense’s huddle or contributing my fair share of racket to make the other team’s defensive line jump early. I go there to not only give energy but to immerse myself in it.

There’s an intangible I get from attending Saints games that can’t be described and it can’t be bottled. It can only be experienced.

As the owners begin sitting on our hard-earned money and obtusely dig in for a protracted hold out, they run the risk of hundreds of thousands of fans starting to ask themselves why they spend money there and not somewhere else. If you’re the NFL owners, that lucidity is no good, since they make billions off of our emotions.

Kill the season and you roll the dice on killing the magic.

Just like the MLB players did in the nineties.

I know baseball isn’t the NFL; but a long standoff might make people half the fans they used to be and it might be possible to measure that in dollars with enough financial data.

Is it wise to haggle over an extra billion on the front end if you end up losing billions on the back end?
We’re about to learn how stupid everyone is, owners, players and fans.

No comments:

Post a Comment