After the owners locked out the NFL players last year, everyone thought the NFL was bulletproof. TV contracts guarantee each team will turn a profit. The product on the field is as good as ever. Parity has reared its ugly head, but it has made the game more enjoyable to fans in wastelands such as Detroit, St. Louis, even Kansas City. Buffalo fans had a glimmer of hope only to be Charlie Brown’ed, again.
But you can see some threads unraveling in those bullet proof vests. Direct TV is giving away the Sunday Ticket (once the only reason to get Direct TV and you paid dearly for it) for new customers. Stadiums are seeing blackouts. Not just in Jacksonville, but they are real threats in Washington, D.C., Kansas City and Carolina. Home openers for Miami are not sell outs against Tim Tebow and the NY Jets. The Redskins ripped out 10,000 seats while still claiming to have a multiyear waiting list for season tickets. The Buffalo Bills outsource two games a year to Toronto. Concussion lawsuits have changed the way the game is played and fines dealt. The league looked the other way when Jerry Jones erected temporary seats at the Super Bowl and charged fans to stand outside to watch the game on a video screen. Personal seat licenses for the right to buy a season tickets. Red Zone channel gives the fan at home, with their home theatres, the opportunity to see every scoring drive of every team. Games stretching to three and a half hours. Add the traffic going to and coming home from the game. Why leave home?
The biggest source of complaints this year has been the replacement refs. Monday night’s blown call against the Packers cost Green Bay the game but just as importantly, have set the optics of the league’s priorities. The owners value money. They don’t value the quality of the game or their integrity. Roger Goodell is a stooge for the old guard league owners while newer owners like Jerry Jones are leveraged up to his eyeballs. Fans are open about not wanting to watch games if this is what they can expect. Players are outraged and have discussed either walking out or taking knees all game as a sign of solidarity with the locked out refs. Players know the refs are not good and are taking liberties against the opponent. Look for more blind side hits and fights during games if the regular refs are not brought back quickly. And do you know what the owners have locked the refs out for? About $100,000 per team is what it would cost to have the best refs in the game back on the field.
Steve Czaban; the national radio morning host on Yahoo Sports radio and the magic radio known as Sirius XM and the award winning blog czabe.com; has been taking the league to task over the low quality of the substitute refs all season. He saw the events of Sunday night and has been warning about them since preseason. His rant on Friday Sept 21 is epic. He saw the refs costing a team a game and doing it in spectacular fashion. Three days before it happened. Clairvoyant.
Which gets us over to hockey. The owners are hurting the ones who truly care about the game of hockey. The fans. The players can go to Europe or Russia and get paid for their skills. The younger players can play in the AHL. Most hockey players still love the game and know the window of the maximum skills is finite. The dollars in hockey are not the same as the NFL. Teams are dependent upon the ticket sales and in-game concessions if they are to stay profitable. The tv contracts are local Fox Sports (or similar) with national providers like NHL Network and TSN/Rogers in Canada. The tv money is not enough to make each owner whole. They need every dollar to survive.
The hockey fan can do several things with their earmarked dollars. Spend them on lower levels of professional hockey or collegiate. I plan to attend several Sun Dog games and take in the occasional Sun Devil contest. Or they can spend that money on other pursuits. Like a new pair of Bauer Supreme skates for the beer league. All roads lead to Rome, and then to the beer league. Once that money is spent, it is gone.
The NHL needs to realize they are hurting their product and fans for years to come if they cannot come to an agreement and get this season played.