If you're reading this and you've already seen the title of this article, then I probably know what you're thinking before you even begin to think it. Another "old-timer" complaining about how there's no longer any loyalty in the NFL. Players no longer have any allegiances to the teams they were drafted to, and seek to change teams from one season to the next like flies on a dead carcass.
Yeah, things are not what they were back in the 60's and 70's when fans knew the names of the players and knew, without much forethought, that players drafted by your home team would most likely - barring injury - be there for the duration of their careers.
Am I that old? Well, old enough to know that NFL teams, during my youth, simply didn't move from city to city and players stayed loyal to their home team.
Of course we all know now that players stayed loyal to the teams they were drafted to simply because they were little more than indentured servants. The players were tied to their initial franchises, and their warring owners, who basically viewed their NFL franchises as fiefdoms with the players being nothing more than slave labor. Now, you're thinking, this guy's a hack for the NFLPA and is wailing about the poor and downtrodden masses that play NFL football.
Nope. Not true.
I'm simply pointing out that the owners of NFL franchises and the players - or employees - that fill the ranks of these NFL teams are the ones that rule. Oh sure, we are always hearing about how the owners are making to much money and should be spending it on the players and how the players are not being treated fairly and should have a say in how the profits of the NFL are shared and distributed. Or that the players, mediocre ones and all-stars both, are causing the pay scale to spiral out of control (did someone mention agents?).
The real truth of the matter is that the fans, the very economic backbone, not just of a city's NFL team but the very backbone of economic existence within the NFL itself, is built, supported and sustained by every working stiff that tunes in to watch the NFL at home, in a bar or at NFL stadiums across the country.
Ladies and gentlemen, WE- you and I, you neighbor, your brother-in-law, and everyone else that claims an NFL allegiance is paying, and quite dearly, for the privilege of watching your favorite NFL players and franchises. All the time we, as paying and supportive fans, are told that they - NFL TEAMS - need your support so they can put a better team on the field, or play in a better stadium, or show home games on TV.
We, the fans of the NFL are, quite honestly, being held ransom by the greed that exists between the players AND the owners of NFL franchises across the country. We, as fans, have no union by which our collective voices might be heard so as to decry what we believe to be outrageous prices and ridiculous demands by owners and players. We have little say in determining if our franchises are going to stay of leave for another city; and the angst is palpable. Certainly, it's up to us fans to support our city's NFL team by attending games, but how does a family of four attend an NFL game when the day will likely cost them the better part of $300! There aren't many of us who can afford this financial burden on any sort of regular basis.
The fans of the Cleveland Browns protested enmass back in 1999 when Art Model decided he could no longer make a living in Cleveland. He was given a sweetheart deal by the earlier NFL-snubbed city of Baltimore who had their collective hearts broken by Robert Irsay, another wanna-be NFL king, and his sneaky and underhanded move to Indianapolis. Unfortunately, the fans in Cleveland had little say in what was going to happen to their NFL team, and Model took the money and ran. However, one thing the fans in Cleveland did do was make it known, to the NFL, it's management, other team owners and the players association, was that we at least have a voice and the ability and capability to protest such a decision.
Unfortunately it didn't keep the Browns in Cleveland, but it did get them another NFL franchise.
In all honesty, Art Model was not alone in the demise and movement of my beloved Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore. The city fathers were as much to blame as Model. One thing is clear, however, and that's the fact that the fans in Cleveland supported their NFL franchise. Unfortunately, escalating players' salaries, egotistic owners and their new stadiums, the requisite financial burden of a new house and the enormous pressure placed on these NFL franchises to win (yes, we fans insist on a winner, don't we?), were and are, the precise reasons that teams move to other cities.
Even now, as this is being written, the city fathers of Los Angeles are talking about building an NFL stadium in the heart of LA to try and lure away another city's NFL team. At this writing, the San Diego Chargers seem to be the most targeted team for the short trip back to LA (The original Chargers were born in LA way back in 1960). It doesn't seem to matter to anyone in the NFL that neither the Rams nor the Raiders (or the Chargers) ever succeeded financially in LA and have since moved to "sunnier" pastures. Still, don't believe for a minute that Raiders owner, Al Davis isn't viewing these most recent discussions about a new stadium in LA and licking his chops. Al Davis has no more loyalties to Oakland than he does to Los Angeles (Putting an NFL team in LA is a waste of time, but that's a story for another time), or any other potential NFL city in America.
I won't go off on the vagaries of LA vs. Oakland or any other American city that may lose its NFL franchise to LA. But what I believe we, as NFL fans can do, is simply protest this continued outrageousness. How do we do that? The most obvious is simply NOT to buy game tickets, or watch them on TV or go to your favorite watering hole and watch them there.. Can you imagine the impact of everyone NOT buying NFL game tickets for only one NFL Sunday?
Let's take a very general view of the NFL and the costs of the game to most of us fans.
Let's say, just for the sake of argument, that NFL stadiums hold an average of 40,000 people. Now let's say the average ticket price is $50. (A recent internet search found the cheapest ticket prices for the September 29th, 2002 game in San Diego between the San Diego Chargers and the New England Patriots are $110 each!) An article on the Jacksonville Jaguars web site, stated the average NFL ticket price in 2001 was over $50! "The report was done by Team Marketing Report, a Chicago-based company that did this survey on NFL ticket price in 2001."
Almost no one goes to an NFL game alone, so let's assume you and a friend attend a game. That's $100 for tickets, throw in parking, an average, according to TMR of $14.65, the requisite $4.77 beer and $3.04 hot dog (x2) is another $15.62. So far we're up to $115.62 (No one has just one beer and one hot dog!). OK, so you expect to pay for the privilege of watching your favorite NFL team. Of course this doesn't count the average of $5.19 (x2 = $10.38) for 2 game day programs or the average of $15.30 (x2 = $30.60) for 2 of your favorite NFL team caps. Add that and you're up to $156.60. Don't forget about the t-shirts, shorts and various other items of NFL memorabilia that you bought last weekend to commemorate your favorite NFL team.
Add it up!
Figure it out some cold and dreary Sunday in February when you've got nothing to do but rearrange your football gear. There must be $500 to $1000 worth of "stuff" there, that your wife keeps putting in the garage hoping the Salvation Army will raid your house looking for old NFL T-shirts, sweat pants and caps for those poor and needy who care about as much for football as they do about their blood pressure or cholesterol.
Anyway, an average of $156.60 for two (remember, it's you and a buddy) multiplied by 20,000 equals a mere $3.132 million (a signing bonus for that unproven rookie wide receiver?), and that's only one NFL stadium in one NFL city! Multiply that number by 32 and guess what? There's suddenly over 100 million reasons why we, as fans, should be really upset!
Imagine the ramifications if we the fans, on opening day, typically one of the biggest box offices days in the NFL, decided to protest opening day. Imagine the shock and horror of the NFL and the NLFPA. Can't you just hear Randy Moss crying about how the fans have deserted him and his 7 figure contract.
Of course, chances are we wouldn't be able to see all those empty stadiums because of the NFL blackout rule. Fox, NBC, CBS and ABC would be crying in their collective beers seeing all that add revenue swirl down the drain. Imagine 32 empty stadiums in NFL cities around the US, hosting little more than two NFL squads with 53 players each, and maybe 20-30 more team personnel in an empty stadium.
No game day gate receipts
No game day concessions
No game day parking
No incoming ad revenue to the broadcasters.
No income for bar owners hoping to lure you into see your favorite team.
No hotel rooms revenue from incoming fans
Oh the teams would get something simply because of the TV revenue. But the networks would be devastated, because they would not be able to handle that sort of outlay very long at all. But if nothing else, we would have made our message loud and clear.
Yes, of course, all of this is hard, no actually impossible to imagine. One NFL Sunday without NFL Football.Could the fans do it? Could I do it? I don't know, maybe but my guess is it would likely be a futile and halfhearted attempt to kick the school yard bully. Still, it's a fascinating thought, don't you think? One Sunday would cost the NFL roughly $70 million to $100 million, in direct revenue alone. What do you suppose this would cost the broadcasters? That's a lot of Budweiser, Fords and Chevy's to sell.
My point is this.The NFL is the Fans' game. I my opinion, it doesn't belong to the players or the owners but to the vast majority of "little people" that dress up in their game-day colors and tailgate at NFL stadiums across the US. It belongs to those of us that wear the ratty, torn and holey old jerseys that show our pride in the Green-n-Gold of Green Bay, the Purple-n-gold of Minnesota, the Blue-n-Gold of St. Louis, (formerly of Los Angeles and Cleveland) the Orange-n-Brown of Cleveland. It belongs to the guys and girls who have thrown that old scuffed and beaten-up football in NFL parking lots across the US and have endured those 3-13 seasons only to hope year after miserable year that "we'll be back."
What has prompted this protestation, you ask? Well, maybe the recent talk from the Major League Baseball about their possibility of a strike, and again, the fact that the fan has little to say over the matter.
I don't believe the NFL really belongs to anyone other than the fans; not Paul Tagliabu, the Owners, the Players or the NFL itself. They are simply are the keepers of the flame; perhaps, the custodians. But they do not own the hearts of the fans or the loyalties that lie within us; they do however, have a firm grip on our pocketbooks.
I will continue to watch NFL football and I will continue to write about it as one of the few sports that really matters to the American psyche. But I will also continue to protest the flaws and injustices that try to overrun my passions.
Stlll, I love the NFL and the excitement it brings. The massive, muscular, speedy men in their uniforms of combat are an American way of life, and these guys epitomize and personify the way we view America, our strengths, our brilliance and our resilience.
I guess that strikes are an unfortunate, but American way of life; in the NFL as well as other industries. Yet we as fans continue to cope with the uncertainty of NFL franchise and player movements. It's something we, as fans, have come to accept as the natural course of events in the NFL and life itself.
Having said all of this, however, one thing remains.It is, in my opinion, the Greatest Show on Earth.