Fourth and Long

Fourth and Long

"If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead." ― Erma Bombeck

Today should be a special day. It's opening day of the National Football League's 2014 season. But for the first time in many, many years, I find myself feeling overwhelmingly "meh" about it.

I was born and raised in New Jersey, and have been a New York Giants fan all of my life. In the 19 years since leaving New Jersey, I've almost always been a subscriber to DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket. There's been an annual ritual in my household, where the automatic billing for the Sunday Ticket kicks in. It's a four month payment plan during which my DirecTV bill is noticeably higher than normal. So I call up and complain. Yes, I want the Sunday Ticket but no, I can't afford it. I ask them to remove it, and then I ask about cancelling my service altogether, since the Sunday Ticket is the main reason I signed up with DirecTV. Eventually, I walk away with my DirecTV service intact, and the Sunday Ticket at a significantly reduced price. And usually 6 months of Showtime or Cinemax or some other premium channel.

This isn't a ritual that I've ever looked forward to. I hate haggling. I hate playing the games. But that was just part of being a subscriber. And every year after receiving that first increased bill, I'd feel a sense of apprehension at the task ahead of me.

Except for this year.

This year I called up and said, "Please cancel my Sunday Ticket." As per usual, the rep on the other end asked what they can do to keep me as a Sunday Ticket subscriber. But this year I said, "Nothing. Please just cancel that service." And they did. This is the first year in almost two decades that I have made the choice to walk away from the Sunday Ticket.

It has nothing to do with the service or with DirecTV. It has everything to do with the NFL.

To be honest, this is a move that I've considered making for each of the past few years. With each passing year, I've been finding myself less and less enamored with the NFL and their product. And therein lies the problem. I'm seeing it more and more as a product. Not a game. Not a sporting event. But a product.

I'm not naïve. I understand that the NFL is a business. As with any business, it exists to make money. If it doesn't turn a profit, there's no reason for it to continue. But there was a time when then business side of the NFL wasn't quite so evident to me. But over the years it seems that I'm noticing more and more of the money side of the equation rather than the entertainment side. I'm not sure if it's because of anything different that the league has done, or if it's just that I'm seeing things differently as I grow and dare I say it, mature.

So what is it specifically that's put me off of football?

11 Minutes of Action
An NFL game broadcast lasts over three hours. Of those 3 hours, there are 11 minutes of game play. I've come to realize over the years that my time is valuable. I am learning to choose to spend it wisely. A 3 hour investment for 11 minutes of actual game play seems unwise. Some of the non-playing time is checking instant replays. Some is teams huddling up. And a lot of it is commercials. Hey NFL... when there's a commercial break after a team scores a touchdown, and then another one after the point after, and then another one after the kickoff, you're telling me that you're more interested in making money than delivering a product that's worth watching.

Beer and the Inability to Achieve/Maintain an Erection
Oh wow, NFL. If you must show so many commercials, could you perhaps realize that I like watching football with my family? Specifically, with my kids? Yes, I was actually trying to create new football fans from whom you could spend years extracting additional money. I'm uncomfortable with the thought that a majority of the commercials that they'll see during a football game are for beer. And not even good beer, but that's beside the point. But I suppose I'd rather them see beer commercials than commercials that make them turn to me and ask, "Daddy, what's erectile dysfunction?" If you're telling me that your target market is domestic beer drinking men who can't get erections, then neither myself nor my children fall into that demographic. We'll just see our way out.

Product Dilution
Remember when Sundays and Mondays were special? There were those four months a year that Sundays and Mondays meant football. All day Sunday and that one special Monday night game. Monday night football was an institution of its own. I was happy to dedicate my Sundays. I didn't always watch Monday night football, but if it was a game that interested me, absolutely. Those two days were special. They meant something.

Today we also have Thursday night football. To me, this makes Sunday and Monday less special. Of course, Mondays were already a bit less special since ABC lost the real "Monday Night Football" and now we're treated to ESPN's version of the same. It's hard to think of any of the ESPN crew over the years as being in the same league as ABC's Monday Night Football crew. But now in addition to giving up my Sundays and Monday nights... the NFL wants me to give them my Thursday nights as well. True, it's only one additional night, but as I said earlier, I've come to realize that my time is valuable. I've got work. I've got the gym, I've got a wife. I've got kids. I'm sorry, but I was already dedicating a chunk of my time to football. I don't have another night to sacrifice to the football gods.

Premium TV Channels
Monday Night Football has been around for as long as I can remember. But it used to be on ABC. If you had a TV in your house, you had access to Monday Night Football. Today, Monday Night Football is an ESPN broadcast. That means that I need something more than basic cable in order to watch it. Not to mention that the newly added Thursday Night Football is on the NFL Network. That's generally a tier that's above the tier that's above basic cable. Football is for blue collar domestic beer drinking (erectile-dysfunction having?) people. It used to be a product that was freely and readily available to those that chose to watch. That seems to be less and less the case.

The Money
So yes, I need to be subscribed to a premium-tier cable or satellite package just to watch the weekly games. But there are other costs. The NFL blacks out local games that aren't sold out. They do this in order to try and support the local teams and build a fan base. Get the people to the stadiums. The problem with this is that for an average family, getting to the stadium isn't cheap. Three years ago the Giants were out here in Phoenix playing the Cardinals. I took my family of 5. We had what I would consider to be below-average seats. Somewhere around the 10 yard line, upper level. we bought no food at the stadium. I spent over $400. I'm sorry, NFL, but if you want to build up a fan base, let me watch the games on TV. Let me become familiar with the sport. Let me become familiar with the team. Let me become a fan and let me choose to treat myself and my family to a day at the stadium. But if you try to force it on me, it's not going to happen.

By contrast, I've taken my family to home games for the Arena League Arizona Rattlers. It was less than half the price of the NFL game. We had great seats. We got to go down onto the field after the game and meet the players and coaches. That experience helped to remind me what a football game should be like.

The Money, Part II: Show Me the Money
Dropping $400 to take a family of 5 to a football game hurts. What hurts more is reading about the players holding out for an extra few million on their multi million dollar salaries. I struggle to be able to afford to give the NFL that money. I resent reading about their employees bickering over an extra million here or there.

I understand that NFL careers are short. I understand that sometimes they're cut even shorter. But some of these players are making in a single season more money than I'll ever have in my life. It's not that they don't deserve it. They have the skill and they work hard to maintain it. But I'd think that the $6 million that they make in a single season could be invested wisely enough to support them for the rest of their lives. It's hard for me to sympathize with their need to make an extra million when I'm struggling to support them with my $400. The problem isn't that they need to make more money. The problem is that they don't know how to invest the money they're offered. The NFL should be working harder to address that.

Still More Money
The NFL is a non-profit organization. Yes, that's right. The NFL, which is a $10 billion-with-a-b-a-year company, is a non-profit organziation. It's clearly legal, and the NFL is certainly far from the only organization to take advantage of legal loopholes. But boy I find it difficult to get behind and support a company that makes $10 billion a year and calls themselves non-profit.

So yes, here we are on Opening Thursday (ugh) of NFL Season 2014. And I just don't care. I realize that I'm in the minority here. As mentioned above, the NFL is a $10 billion per year industry. So they must be doing something right. That is, if their goal is simply to make money. I understand that need. But I wish that it wasn't so prevalent.

The Giants open the season on Monday night against the Lions. I'll probably DVR the game. I've grown to dislike the NFL, but I'll probably always bleed blue and have a soft spot for my Giants. When it's convenient, e.g. when the game is being aired nationally and available to me, I'll probably continue to watch those games. But it won't ever be the same as it was.

I'll always miss the days when players played for the love of the game, and we watched for the same reasons.

Charlie Griefer

Charlie Griefer

Just another ghost driving a meat-covered skeleton made from stardust.

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