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.