OpinionMarch 16, 2009


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The NFL: Sacrificing Tradition and the Fan for Megabucks

By Joseph Malizia

The almighty dollar makes the world go round, right? Actually, given the relative weak value of the dollar in international markets, that’s not exactly a true statement anymore. The sentiment remains however, and while it has been argued that a capitalist society makes for increased competition, better products, and better prices, in some ways it has negatively affected NFL fans’ experience and interactivity with the league and its players. It also has caused the league to sacrifice tradition in some respects. The following article will discuss how the increase of the profitability of the NFL has decreased the overall benefit for those of us who watch the sport and caused some traditions to be cast to the wayside.

Increase in ticket prices. This is the most obvious and most direct change that hurts a fan’s ability to enjoy the NFL experience to the fullest potential. In 2008, the average ticket cost over $90. That makes it very hard for blue collar workers to take their families to see a game. Throw in $20-30 for parking and outrageous concession fees and one Sunday at the stadium could cost close to $500. Many middle class families have a hard time affording this as a one-time luxury and definitely aren’t able to fork over the cost of season tickets, especially since many teams require fans to purchase seat licenses costing thousands of dollars. All of this means that Joe the Plumber can’t regularly get a seat and that drastically changes the dynamic of the stadium. The raucous atmosphere that was the norm in many stadiums has been replaced by a corporate environment.

Naming rights to stadiums. Veterans Stadium is now Lincoln Financial Field. Mile High Stadium is now Invesco Field at Mile High. Memorial Stadium was replaced by PSINet Stadium only to be renamed as M&T Bank Park Stadium after PSINet went bankrupt. Given that NFL organizations receive hundreds of millions of dollars in exchange for naming rights, it pains me to predict that we will never see a “Pat Tillman Memorial Field” or other similar tribute to a relative, iconic figure.

Official sponsors of the NFL. Ever wonder why coaches no longer regularly sport a suit on the sideline? Blame Reebok and the NFL’s contract with them to provide apparel for the coaches. For three years, Mike Nolan petitioned the league to be able to wear a suit on the sideline in honor of his father, but Reebok’s multi-million dollar deal was a huge impediment. Nolan finally got approval, but it practically took an act of Congress. Jack Del Rio followed suit (pardon the pun), but most other coaches remain comfortable in their unsightly hoodies, ala Bill Belichick, or their track suits. Money and greed changed this tradition.

Player interactivity with fans. Follow my logic: most players are millionaires; being a millionaire makes them a target; being a target means players take extra precautions in regards to their safety; these safety measures mean that most star players have decreased the number and duration of their personal appearances when compared to their predecessors of past decades. It’s unfortunate, but that is the situation fans are faced with these days. Players used to hang out with their fans at the local bars. While Pittsburgh kicker Jeff Reed still does frequent public taverns and hang out with fans, let’s be real. He’s a kicker! These days, you won’t find Peyton Manning slinging back Miller Lites at the local sports bar. Some stars do venture out amongst the general public, but their huge entourages and body guards make them simply unapproachable. As for autograph signings, these are typically regimented events which usually start late and end exactly on time. Additionally, big name players charge exorbitant amounts for an appearance, so Mom’s Neighborhood Pizza Parlor isn’t able to afford an autograph signing by Larry Fitzgerald. The bottom line is that in 2009, there are no forums for fans to get to know their favorite player and the biggest impetus for that is money.

Change is inevitable. Sometimes it’s for the good and sometimes it isn’t. While the NFL has done a remarkable job growing its product in popularity and profitability, some of its methods are too focused on making money, thereby sacrificing tradition and the fans’ access to the sport. While one can’t argue that their techniques have been exceptionally profitable, I doubt I will ever attend the Super Bowl in person. If anyone’s got any connections with Reebok, let me know. Maybe we could score extra tickets through them.

 
Joey Litz has been playing fantasy sports since the late 80s - back when it was all referred to as rotisserie and as commissioner, kept track of the leagues with a USA Today and a pencil. It's a passion of his during the NFL season. Thanks to the Fantasy Cafe for providing a forum for enthusiasts like us to get together. You can find Litz posting in the Cafe forums as joejlitz.
 
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