An Email to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

>> 1.06.2011

Dear Commissioner Goodell--

It was a surprise and pleasure to receive your recent email.  I appreciate your initiative in communicating to fans current status of the CBA negotiations.  As you said, we fans care deeply about the league, our teams, and the players; anything that threatens our ability to enjoy NFL football as usual is a matter of great concern.

I assume your statement, “I know we can and will reach an agreement,” was meant to allay that concern.  Unfortunately, it does not.  You made no mention of whether agreement will come before the expiry of the current CBA, before the NFL Draft, before training camp, before the 2011 regular season, or even within our lifetimes.  Of course, an agreement will eventually be reached.  What fans want to know is if you are committed to reaching an agreement in a fashion and timeframe that respects our investment in the game.

Yes, despite the tough economic times you reference, America (and the world)’s investment in NFL football has never been greater.  The NFL dominates the sports landscape in terms of mindshare, media coverage, television ratings, and merchandise sales.  More and more of the average American’s shrinking budget is being spent in support of their favorite NFL team.  More and more of their hurried minutes are spent watching NFL games three, four, or even five(!) nights a week, and consuming NFL news, stats and analysis across every conceivable media and information platform every waking second.

As a result, the NFL has never been more prosperous.  As you know, the NFL will bring in nearly nine billion dollars in revenue this season.  As I write this, word is breaking that ESPN will increase their fee for Monday Night Football, already $1.1 billion annually, by forty percent.  It is at best disingenuous—and at worst, insulting—to suggest that NFL franchises are feeling the same financial pressures as their legions of ardent fans.

You are absolutely correct in stating your job is to represent the game, and to protect its integrity.  It’s unfortunate that at this critical juncture, the actions you cite as harbingers of progress—pushing for an 18-game schedule, stricter enforcement of on-field safety rules, and massively increased fines and suspensions for excessive violence—are doing the most to compromise that integrity.

You state that the NFL is “listening to fans” about uncompetitive preseason games.  However, the NFL is studiously ignoring the overwhelming majority of fans who don’t want an 18-game regular season.  Fans would rather see players who occupy camp roster spots 54 through 80 playing in uncompetitive preseason games, than in uncompetitive regular season games that determine playoff berths and seeding.

The stricter—and wildly inconsistent—enforcement of penalties for dangerous tactics has been a lightning rod for fan anger.  Penalties seem to be called based on player reputation—both that of the defender, and that of his target—more than an objective standard of risk.  This inconsistency is compounded by the NFL levying suspensions and massive fines, independently of whether the plays in question drew flags.  Further, these penalties and suspensions affect the outcome of games, which leads fans to (erroneously, but understandably) question the integrity of the referees, yourself, and the NFL as a whole.

I applaud the league for taking a stand for player safety—but the referees are either incapable of enforcing these rules uniformly, or the rules are too vague to be uniformly enforced.  I also applaud the league for paying much greater attention to concussions and other head injuries; changing the “play through it culture” to protect athletes’ long-term health is vital to the sustainability of the NFL.  Recognize, though, that the “play through it culture” includes fans; we need to be educated about the risks players are exposing themselves to for our entertainment.

I also support the NFL’s effort to reduce rookie salaries.  The out-of-whack salary structure for top rookies has undermined the NFL Draft’s primary purpose: to give struggling teams the best young talent.  Further, these massive, increasingly guaranteed salaries for unproven players are reducing our teams’ ability to keep top veterans in town, or attract new ones—again affecting competitive balance.  Dollars saved by these restructured deals should be redirected to said veterans, and/or to retired players who laid the foundation for today’s NFL.

I’ve also enjoyed the league’s creativity in providing new ways to enjoy the NFL.  The NFL Network, the RedZone Channel, a continually-improving NFL.com and NFL Rush Zone, mobile and wireless viewing and listening options, and a dizzying array of team merchandise make it possible for a fan like myself to immerse themselves like never before.  My children’s experiences as fans have been far more satisfying, involving, and fulfilling than mine was—and I didn’t have any complaints!

However, as you say, this isn’t about the here and now.  It isn’t about the NFL as it is, it’s about the future; about the NFL as it will be ten, twenty, and thirty years from now.  While the NFL seems to think a “responsible” CBA will be the difference between a wildly profitable, world-conquering NFL, and an incredibly wildly profitable, why-stop-at-just-Earth-the-moon’s-right-over-there conquering NFL, something’s being forgotten.

The revenues the league is splitting with the players?  The revenues the owners are sharing amongst themselves?  Those dollars are ours.  They come from our pockets—yes, us, the fans in the stands with the 10% unemployment and the debt up to our eyeballs.  We work our tails off to earn that money, and we probably ought to be spending it on other things, saving it for our retirement, or trying to keep up with our health care costs.  But no, we give all that money to you, either directly or as a dividend of our passion.

Let me be clear: the $9 billion-per-year the NFL currently pulls in, and the $25 billion-per-year you hope to rake by 2027, will be unattainable pipe dreams if there is a lockout.  Throughout this process, you and the owners have assumed that the only direction the NFL can go from these lofty heights is up—instead, it’s more reasonable to state that the NFL is overdue for a return to Earth.

It wasn’t long ago that Major League Baseball was our national pastime and passion, and it wasn’t long ago that NHL hockey stood on equal footing with the NFL, MLB, and NBA.  Work stoppages were the catalysts for a precipitous drop in interest, passion, ratings, merchandise sales, and revenue for both leagues—and neither has returned to its previous place in the American sports landscape.  If you, the owners, and the players cannot find a timely way to divvy up the monstrous sum we fans donate to you every year, the rainbow will vanish—and that pot of gold with it.

As I said the last time I wrote about the CBA, we fans are the golden goose, and you have your hands around our neck.  Remember us.  Respect us.  Do not take our football away.  Complete these negotiations before the current CBA expires, or we will all pay the price.  If you commit to doing so, 2011 will be a Happy New Year, for you and everyone else involved in, or a fan of, the NFL.

Peace,

Ty



16 comments:

a Lion in ViQueen Territory,  January 6, 2011 at 1:28 PM  

and "Send."

Ty January 6, 2011 at 3:15 PM  

aLiVQT--

Yup, I C&P'd this post and replied to Goodell's email with it. FWIW, I got an auto-reply with the proper channels for fan communication.

Peace
Ty

TheRealWags January 6, 2011 at 3:39 PM  

Great write up as always, hopefully they'll get their heads out of their ***** and get this deal done. Read a report about how the players should strike/not play this weekend to force the owners/league to the barganing table. IF that happened, it could get really interesting.

LondonDave,  January 6, 2011 at 5:01 PM  

As always, well put, Ty.

If there is a work stoppage the NFL will receive no more of my money (directly). Obviously I will continue to watch the Lions, which they will receive a little from, but there will be no purchasing of merchandise, tickets, etc.

Considering this is basically the only sport I watch and in about a year and a half will (hopefully, economy willing) graduate college and have a job and thus have money to actually spend on this kind of thing they will be losing out. There is absolutely no reason a deal, with the amount of money that they league is currently making, should not get done.

Pacer January 6, 2011 at 11:27 PM  

Ty-Pacer here. Thanks for a well written post that covers all the points that fans think and feel. Your reference to the NHL and MLB is totally correct and a harbinger for the NFL assuming they are paying attention. After all they sight the fans as the reason they want an 18 game schedule-but do the fans really want that at the expense of the best players NOT playing the game because of an enhanced schedule. Maybe that is a poll you could initiate to get fan reaction, assuming you already have not done so.

theicon77,  January 7, 2011 at 1:05 AM  

I tend to be on the players side in this issue. They are the ones putting their body at risk. And the points you made about safety and expanding the schedule are spot on.

NorthLeft12 January 7, 2011 at 5:54 AM  

Ty, I admire your passion, but you are so wrong on so many levels.
1. The NHL has never been on an equal footing with the other three sports leagues. Not even close.
2. The NFL has already had a work stoppage, and the owners learned that they can survive and thrive during and after the event.
3. Threats of reduced NFL fan interest are empty ones. See # 2.

This lock out is purely about greed, the owners mainly, and the sheep that NFL fans are will dutifully turn on the players and demand that they concede everything to restart the game they cannot live without.
The rich get richer.

Ty January 7, 2011 at 9:12 AM  

TheRealWags--

Yeah, you'd think common sense would intervene here; even if they get a deal done before the season starts, they'll be hopelessly behind in offseason work. The only way to make sure the 2011 season isn't shortened, or otherwise affected, is to get something hammered out before the current CBA expires--even if it's just a one-year extension of the current arrangement.

Peace
Ty

Ty January 7, 2011 at 9:20 AM  

LondonDave--

I don't think the NFL understands how many fans feel the way you do . . . if there's a lockout, it'll take them a long time (longer than the life of the next CBA, for sure) to win back that trust. If they lock the players out to ensure their slice of the pie is as big as they want, they'll be shocked when they see how small that pie shrinks.

Peace
Ty

Ty January 7, 2011 at 9:29 AM  

Pacer--

Thanks for reading! Yeah, I'd love to be able to point to something that shows fans don't actually want an 18-game schedule, or a backups vs. backups Super Bowl.

Peace
Ty

Ty January 7, 2011 at 9:48 AM  

theicon77--

Thanks!

NorthLeft12--

1. I'm not sure how old you are (I'm 29), but when I was a kid it was explicitly one of "the four major sports." From the Gretzky-Messier Oilers up through about the first lockout ('94), the NHL was neck-and-neck with the NBA in popularity and ratings. It never supplanted baseball in the 80s, or football in the 90s, as top dog, but it was definitely right there.

2. The 1987 NFL strike might be giving the owners false confidence. Goodell said it himself: the NFL is miles ahead of where it was just 10 years ago; where it was 25 years ago can't even compare. I realize the TV money will come in in the short term, but if ratings fall to 1/4th of what they are now (as they did in 1987), these TV networks are going to want their billions back--or negotiate much skimpier deals next time around.

3. No way. If there is a lockout, everyone's going to get dragged through the mud . . . picture the 24/7 "Is Favre coming back?" coverage a couple of years ago, only about the state of CBA negotiations. Picture every sports TV show, radio show, Web site and blog talking about nothing but the labor situation all day, every day, for months on end. After all that, fans are going to REVILE Goodell, and likely won't be too pleased with owners and players, either. People will be SICK of the NFL, and it'll take at least a little while to earn that goodwill back.

Peace
Ty

BenderCU January 7, 2011 at 10:15 AM  

As far as NHL vs the other leagues, i think it comes down to where u lived in the country. I'm about ur age Ty and originally from SC, i can tell u now the NHL wasn't close, even to the NBA. However, if u lived in a more northern state that very well could be the case.

I have to agree with Ty about the popularity fallout, I was a huge MLB fan growing up and when they went on strike i lost all interest and i know i wasn't the only one... I'd argue that baseball still hasn't really recovered fully even with all the roid beings pumped in lol.

I for one think this will end up being moot, i don't think the owners r stupid enough not to know all of this. I think there won't be a lockout, maybe i'm just being hopeful. Would the NFL survive? Yes, would they be happy with the outcome of a lockout... not a chance.

NorthLeft12 January 7, 2011 at 10:15 AM  

Thanks for responding Ty.
1. I am 53 and a Canadian. While I love hockey, it has never caught on in the states like the other sports. Perhaps it is doing well in the Northern states but the poor TV ratings and anemic attendance numbers have been the norm for as long as I can remember....in the states.
2. The fact is that the NFL continued to grow after that strike/lockout, after a minor blip.
3. I lived through that stoppage, and I can hardly recall the owners even bothering to respond to the fans and media. I do remember player reps getting raked over the coals on TV and radio. The "unbiased" media and fans did the dirty work for the owners. All I heard was " You guys get millions [not true back then] for playing a game! STFU and get back on the field!"

Lets face it Ty, unions are villains in the US, and uber rich owners are regarded as heroes, no matter how scuzzy and worthless they actually are. I have had this discussion on other Lions blogs and the general consensus is "Owners have a right to make ridiculous amounts of money because they own the team" and "players are all overpaid for what they actually do [play a game]".

My favourite comment, which I have heard numerous times is " If I was paid what the average NFL player earns in one year, I would be set for life/never have to work again."
That is the dumbass mindset that will turn on the players. Guaranteed.

Ty January 7, 2011 at 10:44 AM  

NorthLeft12--

1. Ahh, okay. Here, lemme direct you to one of my favorite SI covers ever, from 1994:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/cover/featured/9437/index.htm

. . . and its accompanying story:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1005307/index.htm

Gretzky with the Kings really broke hockey into the mainstream here. Jim Rome's stubborn insistence on talking hockey like it's continued to be relevant nationally is 100% because of him being a young sports nut in LA at the time. Unfortunately, all this momentum was destroyed by a decade of plodding, trap-heavy hockey, bookended by two lockouts. Hockey's only now recovering from the second one, but it still takes a miracle (or a Winter Classic) for a major network to show a hockey game in primetime . . .

2. That's true, but right now the NFL is dominating the US sports landscape in a way that hasn't been seen since baseball in the first half of the 20th century. NFL is #1, there is no #2, and everything else is fighting for #3. The owners think this is just the beginning, that the NFL will triple revenue over the next 15 years--but really, the NFL has pretty much saturated the American market--and until they have real NFL franchises overseas, the international market won't make up the difference.

You're right, the NFL thinks that a lockout is just a blip on the way to ruling the universe--but I could easily see attendance and merch sales falling off a cliff for a couple of years. Further, TV networks already "lose money" on NFL deals; that is to say the direct revenue from having the games doesn't match what they're paying for rights. But the residual eyeballs, pre- and post-game, plus the cache of having NFL on your network, makes it back up . . .

. . . as long as ratings don't take a 30% hit because people are sick of the greed.

3. Yeah, the venom towards players was really something amazing back then (and I recall the same attitude during the mid-90s NHL and MLB stoppages, too). I think the modern fan understands the business side much, much better than they used to, but we'll see. That the players can (rightfully) say they're not asking for anything more, and in fact they've been perfectly willing all along to keep playing under the current deal, and they still would if the NFL agreed, is going to be a powerful point on their side.

Peace
Ty

kdawg26m January 7, 2011 at 12:21 PM  

Ty - Clearly you are a very intelligent human being, but this whole letter idea comes across as a bit "Captain Obvious" to me. Goodell does not control the owners or the player's association anyway, so he has minor influence, as a figurehead, over the implementation of the new CBA anyway. What can he really do to ensure that it happens? In my opinion, all he can do is stand in line and lobby with the rest of us.

I have to agree with NL12 here...if a lockout DOES occur, when it is all said and done, nothing will change. People who love football will still love football, go to games, and buy merchandise, and TV networks will still pay ridiculous amounts of money to have NFL games on their networks. It may be a minor setback in terms of revenue for the NFL, but the NFL is an unstoppable force in terms of a business that will ALWAYS be in demand, regardless of what the owners and players do (short of flat out refusing to ever play again).

Square,  January 10, 2011 at 1:16 PM  

Just a quick comment as many think that NFL will just keep going on like the NFL has. Maybe in the Detroit area, but I'm from a college football area and 5 years ago (before playing FF) I didn't care that much for the vast majority of NFL. We get piped in random games and there is no home team. People in my area would definitely lose interest in the NFL over the greed and just double up on college football. With only 32 NFL teams and 100s of college football teams (although many fans aren't as rabid as around here) there are many places without a home team and the college game will gain a lot of ground with no NFL to compete with if there was a real lockout. Just a thought as people seem to point out that NFL is irreplaceable just because it's football. Well, college football has a lot to gain and the NFL has a lot to lose.

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