The NFL’s People Problem

The NFL's blackout policy is yet another reminder that the league has a fundamental contempt for its fans. (USA TODAY Sports)

The NFL's blackout policy is yet another reminder that the league has a fundamental contempt for its fans. (USA TODAY Sports)

I’m convinced that NFL press releases are no longer composed by humans. I imagine working for The Shield’s public relations staff doesn’t mean fielding phone calls and firing off overly cheery email blasts so much as troubleshooting an insane supercomputer that understands sentences as thinly veiled threats decorated with buzzwords. I would much rather live in a world where this statement from the Bengals was the product of an out-of-whack algorithm than a person, because whoever or whatever wrote it seems not to comprehend what a football game is.

The basic message of the statement is simple: Hey, we need Bengals fans to buy more tickets, or the game is going to be blacked out locally. The NFL’s blackout policy is problematic, but first, I need to single out this sentence, because oh man: “NFL playoff games are rare and wonderful chances for communities to showcase their communities in front of a national TV audience of roughly 30 million viewers.” I understand that, to some degree, sports teams define places, and perhaps that’s especially true of a smallish city in southern Ohio, but who’s tuning in to this game in some kind of lazy social scientistic attempt to discern the character of the greater Cincinnati metropolitan area? If you watch a football game on TV, here are your two crowd-related observations: A) This crowd is loud or B) This crowd is kind of quiet. Neither of those things tell you much about the people who live there. Eagles fans, for instance, have a reputation for being hostile, but I don’t expect, if I find myself in Philadelphia, to be booed by the desk person at the Marriott.

But I suppose a press release has to hit a certain word count, if only to justify all the research and development money that went into the supercomputer. This is how you end up with tone-deaf nonsense about communities when all that’s really being expressed is “buy tickets or else.”

The reason teams send out these passive-aggressive messages is because the NFL chooses to punish fan bases that don’t sell out their stadiums. I’m sure the p.r. supercomputer in the league’s offices could offer up a dazzlingly circular non-explanation of why the policy exists — something about enhancing the in-stadium experience and not about maximizing game-day profits for a league that generates between $10 and $15 billion dollars in revenue each year — but it’s pretty clear that the rule is in place to near-guarantee that teams make a significant profit for every game they host. Never mind that the stadiums that fans are being coerced into visiting are publicly funded and that franchises already make plenty of cash from their share of the league’s outrageously favorable television contract. If you’re a Bills fan who just doesn’t feel motivated to drive to the Ralph to watch your team lose by 17, you risk also forfeiting the opportunity to watch the blowout from home.

It’s one thing when a lousy team can’t sell tickets, but in addition to the Bengals, the Colts and Packers are having trouble hitting the sellout threshold for their playoff games. This says something about both the local economies in those cities and the aggravating experience of attending an NFL game, even one that figures to be well-played and meaningful. Fans are communicating to the league that attending these games is either too expensive or not particularly more appealing than watching from their couch or at a bar.

The league, if it really believed the hogwash it was peddling about communities, would listen to fan bases that are telling it that its product isn’t worth the asking price. It won’t do this, of course, because it doesn’t actually care. It will go on treating its customers with contempt, talking past them in a way that suggests it has spent so much time trying to understand how to make money that it can no longer relate to the people who possess it.

13 thoughts on “The NFL’s People Problem

  1. It has become painfully obvious at pro sporting events in Boston that the monied elite now constitute a significant fraction of the fans at the Garden, Fenway and Foxboro. I am somewhat regularly given premium seats for games, but cannot imagine spending my own hard earned cash to buy tickets. I mean, taking my daughter and her friends to the premium seats at the garden would cost me well over half a grand. And the people you see walking around are clearly not blue collar workers in very many cases (Bruins are an exception, they have a rabid and dedicated fan base of seemingly typical locals instead of small business owners treating their clients to a night out.)

    So yeah, I think these franchises are so far removed from the working class that they cannot fathom how burdensome their pricing has become.

  2. Clock is ticking on Park Ave. Mommy stating fans (plastic totes and tailgating restrictions) and raping than fans (tickets, parking fees, concessions), raping the taxpayer (player health care and stadium extortion), and special deals with state public service commissions to force people to buy the NFL Network and ESPN. McCain’s bill must be passed so blackout ends.

    It should not be lost on Commissioner Goodell that those who can afford to have their pockets picked by a bunch a fat cat self-involved that there is less attraction to spending a grand to bring you child to witness the poors inflicting brain damage on one another. Only to see Goodell and his bosses shirk the responsibility for the care the employees they see gleefully impaired after they cast them aside.

  3. Simple economics of supply and demand. When supply outstrips demand, the price is too high, period. This is economics 101. If this were just Cincinnati, one could put it on the disgust in the area with ownership, but it is even happening in three of the four games, even in Green Bay. The NFL pigs at the troth have gotten so greedy they have priced themselves out of these sellouts, period. And does anyone buy the canard that Burding is trying to sell: that people judge a city by the attendance at a sporting event? Ludicrous.

  4. Radio is free but you must endure the Bengals color analyst who adds no depth, only homerisms.

  5. Obviously the expense and experience that goes with attending a game compared to watching one from a couch or bar stool is the determining factor for most. Still, consider the following, which is the top Facebook comment on the myFOXdc article titled ‘Under 10,000 tickets remain for Sunday’s Bengals vs. Chargers playoff game,’ a sign of the times:

    “Dear NFL. I would love to purchase tickets but I am now forced to buy Obamacare and can no longer afford ANY luxuries……”

  6. Bless Your Heart Joe; when one has something lacking in their life, blame someone or something else and you blame healthcare. Well played. Where is the rest of your screed: why not toss a firebomb at the unions too, every football player is in one. If you cannot afford insurance and a ticket to a football game, you have nobody but yourself to blame, but you knew that already.

    • Funny. The last thing I expected was a troll-type reply, especially here on SOE (though your anonymity is a dead giveaway to everyone that you are a coward). And though this isn’t relevant, I’m an avid sports fan who attends many events with my sons — we especially enjoy San Diego Padres games in beautiful Petco Park :)

      That said, I take it you never learned how to comprehend a comment made from a global perspective. Or in this case, as stated, an observation I made and called “a sign of the times.” I suggest it’s time to do that — you and I cannot ignore the fact that there are many affected Americans who will keep expressing themselves regarding their lot in life. It’s called free speech. I’m thankful for that, whether it’s me responding to your tripe here or all those people who expressed themselves by “liking” a certain Facebook comment posted by “reynahome” that I referenced above. If it applies, you may now go and put that fat head of yours back in the sand…but you knew that already.

      • stop wasting your money on Padres games and you can afford to watch sports that matter in person. problem solved.

  7. Greed has been making inroads on fan appreciation for decades, but we’ve certainly reached a new high (low) point when PR garbage is thrown out there as if it has any meaning or relevance to real life. I’d like to say I want the leagues to crash and burn, but if they did it would mean we have much bigger problems. Maybe the leagues will fade in relevance as they continue to blow the bubble that is big-time sports.

  8. When the total unsold seats reach about 2,000 it’s time for the local CBS affiliates to step up in Cincinnati, Dayton, and Lexington. They can insure the costly end of third quarter commercials and by donating the seats to qualified organizations they can claim a donation on tax returns