The NFL Doesn’t Give a Crap About Its Fans
“Now I know I’m being used
That’s okay, cause I like the abuse”
— The Offspring
If everything goes according to plan, and the NFL owners and players are indeed, as Dallas owner False Face Jones so eloquently put it, “circumcising mosquitoes” in the final stages of negotiations, we will have football back some time Thursday. When the announcement is made, there will be much rejoicing throughout the land, and fans will hurl themselves into full NFL preparation. Fantasy drafts will be scheduled. Jerseys will be lovingly cleaned and prepared for the season. Plans for trips to training camp will be hurriedly assembled.
After more than four months of excruciating negotiations, legal challenges, stops, starts and endless SalPal reports, the two sides are on the verge of a 10-year deal that guarantees fans won’t miss a minute of action. Why, there’s still time for the Hall of Fame game to be played August 7. How’s that for perfect timing? All the doomsday forecasts of missed games, truncated schedules and a Super Bowl played next April were premature and dead wrong. When it really mattered, the league and its players stepped up and saved the season. And there will be great rejoicing throughout the kingdom.
If this lockout/work stoppage/strike/pain in the ass taught us anything, it’s that neither side cares a lick about the fans. Despite launching sophisticated public relations campaigns designed to prove that they were the ones concerned most about the people, both the players and owners proved they were out exclusively for themselves. The sudden burst of negotiating progress had nothing to do with alleviating the stress on fans brought on by the imbroglio or finding a resolution so that nobody would miss a snap of exhibition football. It was and is entirely about money. Nobody wanted to sacrifice a penny of coveted pre-season dough.
Now, I’m not so naïve as to think that businessmen don’t base their entire existences on the bottom line. But the NFL is different than, say, Home Depot. If that company’s management and labor stage quarrel over wages and benefits, and the doors close, people can walk across the street to Lowe’s or True Value to buy a hammer. It’s in the best interests of Home Depot owners and employees to figure things out quickly, the better to prevent lost sales, and potentially, customers. The NFL is different, because there is no alternative down the road. As a result, fans wait, helplessly, while rich guys carve up billions of dollars of their money.
“The more you suffer, the more it
shows you really care. Right?”
Once the NFL resumes regular business, it will revive its campaign that celebrates “real fans” and encourages loyalty by glorifying those who devote themselves -– often shamelessly -– to supporting their heroes. Players will sing along by praising the lift they get from a crowd in full throat. It plays nicely on TV and on billboards.
It’s also a big, steaming pile of crap.
The past four months have proven conclusively that while fans have unique relationships with the NFL that goes well beyond the proprietor-customer bond, owners of teams do not reciprocate those feelings. To them, fans basically comprise studio audiences designed to make the product more attractive to television networks, which provide the real money for the NFL bottom line. Meanwhile, the players view the fans as soundtracks accompanying their exploits and cultivate images the better to secure marketing opportunities that yield off-field income from said fans.
You may scoff at what you consider a cynical view but over the past several months, both sides dug in hard to fight for their fair share, which is absolutely their right. Despite giving the impression that wounding the fans was a top-of-mind concern, no tactic or strategy employed by either side had any goal other than the accumulation of more money. As fans sat and waited through the loss of free agency, a surreal draft and a spring without the ability to talk football through mini-camps and OTAs, both sides pressed their advantages. Now that they have decided on a palatable way to divide the spoils, they expect fans to come running back.
“I may be dumb, but I’m not a dweeb.
I’m just a sucker with no self-esteem.”
So, what now? Obviously, it’s good news that professional football is back, and there won’t be any games missed. In fact, the truncated free-agent period should be pretty fun. But let’s not forget that while the owners and the players have gotten theirs, the fans need a taste, too. Teams will no doubt offer great “deals” as a way of thanking everybody for their patience, but ignore them. They are entirely for show. The way to hit both sides is in the money clip.
Ask yourself, “Do I really need that third Michael Vick jersey?” Of course not. You don’t have to rush out and buy a Danny Watkins jersey, either. Given the new four-year free agency clause in the CBA, he might be gone before you get sufficient use out of the thing. Hold off on those merchandise purchases. Bring a sandwich or two to the game this season, the better to cut down on your concession outlays. Manage your fantasy team like the shrewdest GM around. Just don’t use NFL.com to run the show. It’s unreasonable to ask fans to stay away in protest of the treatment they received over the past four months, but there’s no need to come sprinting back to the league as if nothing happened. If they’re going to make it all about business, fans should do the same thing. Cheer like hell for the Birds but make sure Jeffrey Lurie and his people know you’re wise to them. Cut back on the discretionary spending for a season.
And maintain some dignity.
* Anybody who thinks the U.S. run to the Women’s World Cup final is going to result in a giant surge in soccer interest should contact me about the easy payment plan I’m offering on purchase of the Ben Franklin Bridge. The Union is doing great, but the MLS and WPS aren’t ready to take off, thanks to Abby Wambach and the ladies’ performance. Soccer is a wonderful niche sport in this country, but no revolution is on the way.
* It would be great to see the Phillies get another bat in the lineup, but the series against the Mets proved that bullpen help is the team’s real need. Adding a veteran like Heath Bell to the ‘pen would be a great move and have more impact in the post-season than a righthanded hitter would. Then again, it wouldn’t be awful to get both…
* Congratulations to paralyzed Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand, who stood for the first time last week. Fans across America look forward to the day he’ll walk onto the Scarlet Knights’ field to a thunderous ovation. Keep it up, Eric.