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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lockout Underscores Owners’ Lack of Respect for NFL Fans

By Jon Wagner-Sr. Writer-Football Reporters Online

The clock finally struck midnight on Friday night, and now, while talk of March Madness and Cinderellas are in full swing, the 2011 NFL season is in realistic jeopardy of turning into a pumpkin.

One week after the original March 4th deadline for ironing out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was extended, NFL owners officially closed up shop and locked out their players, effectively shutting down the league (other then next month’s NFL draft) until further notice.

Sadly, it’s those who are most responsible for the insanely huge amounts of money that NFL owners and players are quibbling over – NFL fans – who will suffer the most unless the upcoming season is saved.

Duping their loyal fans, NFL owners have taken a page (and then some) from a 1989 film about another sport, the classic baseball movie, “Field of Dreams.”

Most of us know the story. Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella hears the whispers… “If you build it, they will come.”

That’s exactly what NFL owners did with over-the-top, extravagant new stadiums.

Except, they went one step further, with the unfortunate notion that in the NFL, “If you build it, they will come… and when they do, you can try to shake every last dollar you can out of not only the fans who show up, but from the players the fans will pay exorbitant amounts to come see.”

And, that’s all while putting the financial burden of building those shiny new stadiums largely upon those same fans.

Yes, that is the sad state of affairs in today’s NFL for the average NFL fan.

Not only do fans, as taxpayers, shoulder much of the cost of new stadiums like Jerry Jones’ Cowboys Stadium (often dubbed the “Dallas Palace”), or the Giants’ and Jets’ New Meadowlands stadium (each having come with price tags in excess of $1.6 billion), but those same fans are asked to pay thousands of dollars in Personal Seat Licences just to have the right to buy tickets to watch games in them.

If that wasn’t enough, now loyal remaining season ticketholders who weren’t priced out (by PSL’s) of buying tickets to see their favorite teams play, can’t even do that, because of the unyielding collective ego and greed on the part of NFL owners.

That’s not to say that the NFL’s current labor issues are all one-sided. Every dispute has both opposing parties which are usually at least somewhat at fault.

However, it’s the players who really just want to give the fans what they want – to play football -- under the current CBA specifications that the owners agreed to themselves, years ago. That agreement was fine for NFL owners until that no longer became convenient in the face of the owners trying to squeeze every last dollar out of both the NFL Players’ Association and NFL fans.

The simple fact is, the owners can’t fully be trusted.

Only now, after the NFLPA has been forced to decertify and involve the threat of a possible court injunction, are NFL owners beginning to open their books to any extent at all (and even at that, they won’t be opened far enough to justify the extra $1 billion and greater portion of shared revenues along with an increase to an 18-game regular season schedule that NFL owners are seeking).

But, the reason for the mistrust of NFL owners goes beyond that, back to the stadium issue.

Under the guise of “parternership” to win public support, NFL owners have secured more than $4.4 billion in taxpayer money for 21 new or renovated stadiums (nearly two-thirds of the league’s stadiums) since 1995.

The reality is that of the $2 billion teams claim they are investing in stadiums, about $1 billion comes from NFL loans and PSL’s, two sources where the dollars come either exclusively, or at least mostly, from fans.

A particular case like the Chicago Bears’ Soldier Field renovation shows what the NFL’s “parternship” with the public for financing new NFL stadiums really means.

The Bears pledged to pay $200 million of Soldier Field’s $632 million renovation, but when all was said and done, thanks again, to partially fan-financed NFL loans and to fan-paid PSL’s, the final cost to Bears’ ownership for the renovation was less than $30 million.

It’s no different around the league. Over the next 30 years, taxpayers in NFL cities will pay more than $2 billion in interest payments on bonds that were used to raise public money for NFL stadiums.

And, thanks to a deal worked out with the U.S. government, while fans are helping to finance NFL stadium through paying their own taxes, NFL owners collect PSL money on a tax-exempt basis.

The bottom line is that the players just want to play. But, NFL owners want yet more money despite having already asked for billions from NFL fans to help finance new stadiums that ironically are supposed to be fan-friendly. Yet, despite all of the state-of-the-art amenities, how “fan-friendly” can it really be when those same fans are also being asked for thousands of additional dollars per seat in the form of PSL’s?

And, how much more can possibly be asked of NFL fans, who simply want their sport back in time for Week 1 of the regular season in September (or for that matter, in time for the upcoming NFL draft and training camps)?

Adding further insult to injury was the most recent Super Bowl, in February, with yet another irony. So desperate was Jones and the NFL to cram as many fans as possible into the new Cowboys Stadium as a result of further greed (to make more money) and ego on the part of Jones (to set the Super Bowl attendance record), that temporary seating wasn’t installed in time, thereby shutting out many fans who paid about $800 each per ticket (in additional to travel expenses to the Dallas area).

While the NFL more than rectified the situation financially, those fans missed seeing the game live and became the latest casualty of the NFL putting everything else about its game before the fans who support it.

Fans, as taxpayers and now as PSL buyers, have been conditioned to paying for stadiums for millionaires to play in and keep an exclusive NFL family owners in the business of remaining as billionaires, all while the average taxpayer and hardcore NFL fan can’t afford a seat in those very stadiums.

When you look at it that way, it’s amazing that it’s not the fans who haven’t decided to stop paying or to stop showing up, and haven’t locked out the owners and players.

Ultimately, we all love the game too much for that to happen.

But, after all the fans have given to the NFL, it’s time for the NFL and its owners to give something back.

For once, NFL owners (and even players) need to realize that they would have been nothing without their fans.

And for once, they need to let their fans come first, and make sure that it’s not the fans who are the next to be locked out.


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