Saturday, March 26, 2011

Stop Telling Us About "What the Fans Want"!

Right now, the NFL has locked out their players. In a few months after what promises to be a great playoff season, the NBA will do the same. They'll talk of economics, revenue sharing, salary caps, free agency and ... to a lesser extent ... safety.

One thing that will get thrown out there by commissioners, owners, players and the media is about "what the fans want". Please. On the list of things that the owners and unions wish list, what the fans want isn't near the top.

First off, the fans don't want to hear any of this. Yes, this is a labor dispute and they happen all the time. When dealing with billions of dollars, it is a delicate issue that isn't resolved as simply splitting the pot down the middle. Fans, for the most part, understand that. Just don't drag us into it. Don't tell us "the fans want to get this done" because that won't factor into any of the negotiations.

See, fandom is a sticky thing. It is almost like an addict and sports are our enablers. If the NFL only played half a season, there will be more than enough fan support to fill up those stadiums and care about their product. And while in some cities it may take time to warm back up to the teams, it'll happen eventually. If it doesn't, they'll just move the franchise to another town that will.

That's sports for you. They know they just don't have you hooked but that your heart and soul is invested in these teams. I am a Redskins fan. That's part of my identity. When the Redskins lose or play well, people talk to me about it. No matter what happens in the labor dispute, I'll still be a Redskins fan. Believe me, if the Daniel Snyder era hasn't driven all the fans away then it just isn't going to happen.

I became a Redskins fan, interestingly, during the strike-shortened 1982 season. I stayed one after the 1987 replacement player games. I've stayed a Cincinnati Reds fan after the Selig & Fehr Show decided to shut down the World Series in 1994. I kept being a Laker fan after the ugly labor dispute of 1998-1999.

These leagues know this, so they can act however they want.

They can demand new stadiums and arenas by threatening to bolt if they don't get it. That's why the Sacramento Kings ... once a raucous fanbase ... will be leaving for Anaheim or Las Vegas or anywhere else with the arena they want to rip from the fans. How else could the Seattle SuperSonics leave town for Oklahoma City? Easy. To gain a new set of fans that will do anything to lure and keep a franchise in their city.

If sports leagues cared about what fans want, no team would be relocated without an obvious fan revolt (i.e. not supporting the team). Most of the time that's the case, but how could the NFL allow the Cleveland Browns to move to Baltimore? That was for the fans, right? Oh, they did put an expansion team back in Cleveland in a couple of years ... but the NFL benefitted from record-setting expansion and franchise fees which allowed the new ownership to gouge the fans with higher ticket prices and funding for a new stadium. Thanks for the help, guys.

If the NFL cared about the fans, why are they pushing an 18 game season when pretty much every poll shows that the fans don't want that?

If the NFL cared about the fans, why don't the intervene in Cincinnati where the fanbase absolutely loathes owner Mike Brown? Why can't they hold their owners accountable for success?

If the unions cared about their fans, then why do they allow franchise players to walk away from their teams and leave a demolished franchise in their wake?

If the leagues cared about fans, then why is there always buzz about ripping All Star voting away from the fans and giving it to media members and/or coaches and players?

If the leagues ... including the NCAA ... cared, then why are the NCAA tournament games starting at 10pm at night? Must be nice for the fans that the Ohio State-Kentucky game ended after midnight, Newark time. Same goes for World Series games that many people (namely kids) will never see the end of.

If the leagues cared about fans, then how could the NFL have completely screwed them by charging outrageous prices to Super Bowl XLV for seats the fans' butts were to be in didn't exist? Or to charge me tons of dough to sit in the rafters of a domed football stadium to watch a Final Four game and suffer through poor sighlines?

Not to say that these leagues don't care about fans at all. The entertainment value at these stadiums is nothing we've ever seen before. With all the different things to do, the more comfortable seats, the better food, the more amenities and overall spector of these games, these leagues do pour a lot into giving fans more than just the game they are watching. You can go to a baseball stadium on game day and not even bother watching the game -- there's so much to do. The Fan Experience has never been better.

But that's not what these leagues are talking about.

Seriously, if the sports leagues cared, they'd cut everything by 15% to help us in this terrible economy. Cut the ticket prices, concessions, parking, merchandise as well as the player's salaries and revenues. Wait, that's a silly idea since it doesn't benefit anyone other than the fans.

Look, I don't expect the fans to be the number one priority of these labor disputes nor do I think that they honestly don't ultimately care about us. Just stop acting like we, the fans, are a bigger part of this than we really are. Stop using "the fans" as a bargaining chip between the two sides ... or worse, don't say it to patronize us.

1 comment:

Monponsett said...

I plan to devote myself to the NFL Draft with jihad-like intensity, then go into a fugue state any time the NFL is discussed.

If the Celtics and Bruins do well enough, I'll survive into June or so. After that, if I sit on the beach and keep the radio volume low, the Red Sox can carry me to September without any psychotic outbursts.

If they haven't figured out the NFL by then, I may have to start killing NFL owners. Not much happens on Cape Cod, and I don't want to spend my winters covering Missing Fishermen cases or going to fringe Kennedy weddings.

I am very, very happy with my journalistic career peaking at Sports and Weather coverage for a local paper. I won't allow some billionaire to screw all that up.