NFL owners have golden chance to pay debt to fans

January 18, 1998|By JOHN STEADMAN

As the NFL club owners huddle around this mountain of newfound money, $17.6 billion, massaging their hands as they get ready to dig in and make off with their individual shares, the problem presents itself regarding what to do with this unprecedented gift that tumbled out of television heaven. What, pray tell, are they going to spend it on?

Each team, for the next eight years, will receive an average of $73 million per season. Hypothetically, Art Modell, owner of the Ravens, could underwrite the building of the new stadium by converting three payments to the cost of construction. With all due respect to some of those extortionists in owners' suits who run franchises, the following proposal is gift-wrapped in behalf of all the gracious ticket buyers who made it possible for the NFL to first gain the popularity that allowed its enormous wealth to accumulate:

Give every fan who bought a season ticket a partial refund. This is no different from the rebate a city, county or state provides its citizens when a surplus has been accrued by government from its taxpayers. Imagine the public relations value from such a gesture.

Begin to spend their own dollars for building stadiums rather than coercing the public to pay for the playpens that they insist be erected for their individual benefit, such as the $220 million structure being built at Camden Yards for the Ravens.

Cancel every permanent seat license (PSL), otherwise known as permanent seat larceny, that the fans have been forced to

accept in places such as Baltimore, Oakland, Calif., Charlotte, N.C., and a few other locations. Again, with a gun to the heads of Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public.

Revoke the practice of making the fans pay for exhibition scrimmages, whether they want them or not, when they subscribe to purchase tickets for the regular season.

The NFL, in fiscal conclusion, should spread the wealth around to the fans who made the sport what it is today. If not for the fans, there wouldn't have been a $17.6 billion contract. Rather than stuff all this money into their pockets, the owners should be grateful enough to display some trace of benevolence and pay back the fans for turning the NFL into such a giant money-making machine. That's the least they can do.

Before television made the owners of the teams so enormously rich, the fans were the ones buying the tickets and creating the demand that TV tapped into. The fans made the NFL, not the owners. After the crowds came, the games attracted the networks and the owners collected the money -- both at the box office and from television.

The gluttony of the NFL is such that as you read these well-intended suggestions, a secret committee of owners is meeting in executive session plotting additional ways it can extract money from you, you and you. It's a game the owners play so well. They have it polished to perfection -- thinking of methods to separate fans from their money so, they, in turn, can be enriched at the expense of the ticket buyers and continue to enjoy zillionaire status.

NFL owners, in case you haven't noticed, are especially adept at pleading poverty. With all this fresh money at their disposal, they can become more independent, permitting their families and chosen friends to enjoy a life of luxury at Sunday afternoon football games. Those poor working stiffs in the stands, being subjected to record high seat prices, plus, in some instances, PSLs, have made it possible for the owners to cavort in rich and stylish accommodations -- be they flying in plush planes or watching a football game while partaking of fine wines and pheasant under glass.

Now all this cash ($17.6 billion) is stacked on the table, awaiting distribution, to help needy causes -- the owners of NFL teams. At the same time, it presents the NFL with an ideal opportunity, for the first time in history, to do something to show the depth of its gratitude -- rather than its disdain -- for the fans.

Instead of mouthing platitudes that come from deep within their bleeding hearts, they should give the fans something back for their steadfast loyalty that originates back over several decades.

Take the $17.6 billion the TV hucksters are giving away and cut the fans in for a piece of the action. Imagine the applause that would be heard. And, after all, shouldn't the owners be sports in giving a portion of the money back to the constituency that has supported them all these years and created the windfall?

The fans, without question, made those owners what they are today. Rich. The ticket buyers patronized the games, watched them on television and bought the products being marketed by the sponsors. So the fans, without a semblance of doubt, created the live gate (those in the stands) and also represented the vast audience that was watching in TV land.

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