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.