Jan 6, 201408:58 AMLeft Business Brain
with Tom Breuer
NFL’s arrogance an insult to fans
(page 1 of 2)
On my way into work on Friday, I was listening to ESPN Radio yackers Mike and Mike, and co-host Mike Golic expressed his surprise that the Packers had not yet sold out their playoff game against the 49ers.
At the time, something like 3,000 tickets remained to be sold, and Golic was nattering on about how amazing this development was, as if they’d just discovered the fabled lost city of El Dorado or Ron Johnson’s brain.
So I got out of my car and walked the 15 or so feet across the Starbucks parking lot for my weekly caffeine overdose — which in 10-below-zero weather is the functional equivalent of being stabbed in the large intestine with an icicle — and I started to get my hackles up.
I’ve been to Lambeau in winter before, and even in 20-something-degree weather, it’s decidedly unpleasant. Now imagine sitting on a metal bench for four hours in below-zero weather and surrendering all hope as the sun sinks like Augustus Gloop below the unforgiving rampart of the Lambeau Field bowl.
It’s a trapped, desperate kind of feeling few have experienced outside of a doomed Apollo mission or a Rebecca Kleefisch dinner party, and even in the glow of a Packers win, it stings.
I was at the Packers victory over the Giants that helped propel the team to its Super Bowl XLV championship, and I froze my preternaturally hale Nordic digits off. It was a great game and I appreciated the opportunity to see it, but it wasn’t even all that cold that day, and I still felt like a cartoon character helplessly trapped in a block of ice. Late last week while the Packers were furiously hawking playoff tix in order to avoid a threatened, NFL-imposed local TV blackout, weather.com was forecasting a high of 0 and a low of minus-18. (It ended up clocking in at a much balmier 5 degrees, but the fans couldn’t have predicted that.) To put it bluntly, sitting in single-digit weather for that long sucks, and unless the Packers hired an army of Gilbert Browns to go full-on Snuggle House on the bleacher plebes and I somehow missed seeing it, it was a lot to ask.
Now, I’m a die-hard Packers fan, but I’m also savvy enough to understand that the term “die-hard” implies that dying is a real possibility. And to shame Packers Nation for not stepping up in a timely manner to scoop up those tickets is shockingly tone deaf. Have any of these scolds ever experienced these kinds of temperatures?
Consider the barriers the Packers and the NFL put in the fans’ way:
- The Packers invoiced season-ticket holders for playoff tickets in late-November, when it looked like the playoffs were a dead letter. Worse, the team changed its refund policy this year, telling fans that their payments would be credited to next year’s season ticket purchases, rather than be refunded outright, if the Packers failed to make the playoffs.
- Playoff ticket prices, which are set by the NFL, range from $102 to $125 (face value). That’s more than during the already pricey regular season, when you can get an end zone ticket for 74 bucks. Add in the glorified tap water (aka domestic beer) and lumps of knotted dough they sell at beluga caviar prices, and you’re looking at a pretty expensive outing.
- The NFL appears to have gone out of its way to pick the coldest possible game conditions for the Packers’ playoff contest. Instead of scheduling the game for early on a Saturday, when the temperature was forecast to be considerably milder, it picked late Sunday afternoon, which was destined to be much colder. And scheduling the Packers-Niners tilt as the late game was a subtle little twist of the knife. Anyone who’s ever been at Lambeau in winter knows that when the sun goes down, it quickly begins to feel like a merciless moonscape.
But despite all these NFL- and Packers-imposed obstacles, the league as late as 11:30 a.m. Friday threatened to pull the plug on the TV broadcast of the game in the Green Bay and Milwaukee markets. It’s hard to believe that made financial sense, since TV revenue is the lifeblood of the NFL and sports leagues in general. To me, it sounded more like blackmail, and carried with it the not-so-subtle message that Packers fans deserved to be punished for their impertinence.
That wouldn’t be so outrageous if the NFL and its teams weren’t regularly holding their palms out and pleading for — or rather demanding — tribute from the taxpaying serfs.
If you’ll recall, all those Brown County Packers fans the NFL was threatening to screw over until the last minute paid for all those extra seats the team suddenly had so much difficulty filling. Remember back in 2000 when Brown County residents voted to impose a .5% sales tax on themselves to fund Lambeau Field’s $295 million renovation? They were told it was the only way to ensure the long-term viability of the team and keep it in Green Bay for good (even though the team’s bylaws pretty much rule out a move to another city). The vote was closer than one might have expected, with a full 47% of the population agreeing with dissenters who thought the renovation should have been paid for with private funds.
But somehow the NFL (which is now a $9 billion-a-year enterprise) and the Packers (a team that Forbes recently valued at $1.16 billion) managed to convince a majority of Brown County residents that they should pony up the extra cash to pay for the league’s infrastructure — and for the privilege of paying $7.50 for a cup of weak lager.