NFL, thy name is greed

If ever you wondered about how much owners of sports franchises really care about their fans, the NFL has taken a step toward providing the answer — very little unless you’re a paying customer. When a church or homeless shelter tries to provide some wholesome entertainment for the less fortunate, the league’s attitude is about the same as that ascribed to Marie Antoinette just before the French Revolution.

In what had to be the worst public-relations move since Custer threatened the Indians, some insensitive lawyers who represent the NFL ended up, as one headline stated, “pulling the plug” on big-screen TV parties for last Sunday’s Super Bowl, forcing cancellation of these affairs in churches and homeless shelters across the country. The popular gathering of parishioners and the destitute to eat, pray and root for their favorite team in places outfitted with the newest technology violates the league’s copyright restrictions on screens larger than 55 inches, according to the league.

Only sports bars are excluded from the prohibition. So now we have the picture of wealthy owners of the NFL’s hugely profitable enterprises promoting the interests of juke joints while trying to stifle the presumably wholesome efforts of clergy and caregivers. Have these guys in their multimillion-dollar suites really thought this over?

To soften the blow, the NFL told the churches and shelters they can show the game on regular TV sets. How generous. That’s solid evidence that league owners and officials are as ignorant about the latest technical advances in television as they are insensitive. And that is saying something. Only a few of us old-timers still have those 19-inch analog sets we all used to crowd around in our basement recreation rooms to watch Broadway Joe Namath and his New York Jets sock it to the old Baltimore Colts.

Can they be unaware that many new houses come with what are called “media rooms,” with 60-inch-or-larger HDTV screens, surround sound and theater seating? The screens just keep getting bigger and bigger, until they will be the size of the one on which I watched all those cowboy movies every Saturday afternoon at the Alhambra Theater.

But those who can’t afford the still-hefty price tags and still want to watch the game in a pleasant communal setting, and do so without the fights, booze and din of the local watering hole, now are being told to buzz off.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, I have but one question: Are you nuts?

Some ministers tried to make things right by hosting the Sunday affair in their own limited quarters, presumably renting the biggest screen available. But it just wasn’t the same, sports fans. If there is one single word that can be used to describe professional athletics, it is “greed.” It pervades every aspect of every sport — baseball, basketball, football and those who broadcast their events — and it all comes at the expense of the fans about whom most players, coaches and owners couldn’t care less.

The prices of seats and refreshments are so high at the arenas and stadiums, many of which were built by taxpayers, that few people outside those whose companies buy boxes or club seats can afford them. Several basketball franchises right now are in dire straits because they have priced their fans out of the picture to make multi-multi-multimillionaires out of the players. They are looking for wealthier venues. Good luck.

The NFL’s interference in the harmless activities of churches and shelters was just another in a series of PR disasters around its biggest annual Sunday show. Remember Janet Jackson’s costume failure at one halftime and a series of vulgar, tasteless commercials? Those cost the league quite a lot in good will, and this latest gaffe is sure to do the same.

Next year, if this hasn’t been resolved with an updating of copyright language, every church in the United States should ignore the ban and see if the league’s screen police can do anything about it. The chances are pretty good it would end the debate in a hurry and force a change in policy. Otherwise, they face the prospect of the Lord, to whom most teams pray for assistance before every game, smiling down malevolently.

(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)

2 Responses to "NFL, thy name is greed"

  1. Sandra Price  February 5, 2008 at 7:38 am

    I’m a Capitalist football fan but the Super bowl was a sham of horrible violence, too much volume, too many commercials promoting high energy harmful products. I ended up turning off the sound after the kick off when 6 commercials were thrown at top volume even sending my cats running from the room.

    I love the Budweiser Clydesdales but they were overshadowed by killer robots destroying each other along with some fool kid being violently thrown around for no purpose. Had there been more physical action during the game, I might have stayed tuned. After 20 minutes I had no interest in who won. I turned off the television, read my book and figured I had won the Super bowl.

    Is this going to be the future of the Big Game? If it is, I will not watch it on television. Half time lost me 5 years ago and now the game itself is a lost cause in my home.

  2. Flapsaddle  February 5, 2008 at 11:06 am

    It’s business, not sport. Professional football has absolutely nothing to do with sport, any more than does MLB or the NBA.

    The business has managed to convert the Division I colleges into farm clubs. The players, the majority of whom are black, are little more than chattels whose speed and hand/eye coordination – or lack thereof – gets them bought, sold or traded at the whim of the owner; their “agents” very often screw them out of the majority of the money they make by risking their health every week. And even more callously than other eat-’em-alive businesses, they are discarded without a thought once their particular talent has faded or is available in a younger replacement waiting in the wings.

    The franchise owners will threaten a city with leaving if public money is not fronted to build them a workplace, even though the cost/benefit ratio and job-creation of such enterprises is minimal. A city that says “No!” to new or improved schools, parks, better police protection, improved utilities roads or social services will pee all over itself to accomodate some robber-baron franchise owner threatening to move his team elsewhere if he cannot get his hand deeper into the public coffer.

    I have no problem with a business doing business, as long as they – to quote Judge Judy – “don’t pee on my leg and try to tell me it’s raining!”

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

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