I would not have seen this article, if not for the ever diligent folks at NFL Fan's Union. But Sally Jenkins, one of the very, very good sportswriters at the Washington Post went to the Super Bowl, and she's had enough. After several paragraphs ripping the decadence of the Super Bowl at the cost of the fans who were not even allowed to sit in the seats they paid for (and who are now suing, and damn right on them), she gets to the crux of the matter:
"But how much growth does the league need? It already generates an estimated $8 billion, and owners get the first $1 billion off the top. If you really love the NFL - and I do - you have to wonder if the billionizing of the league is really good for it. The average cost of attending a game for a family of four is $412.64. At Cowboys Stadium, it's a staggering $758.58. That's what the league calls growth."
It is tempting to call Jenkins a bit late to the party on this issue, but two things jump out at me. She wrote, last year, a devastating article on the state of medical treatment in the NFL. The only flaw may have been that the subject of her article was O.J. McDuffie. Six months later, at the 2010 season opened to watch Philly Eagle Stewart Bradley stagger around with clear concussion symptoms, only to be sent out again later in the game, the 2010 season became all about concussions. But read that article written in May 2010, and remember what they were saying about Big Ben in the Super Bowl--he's wearing a shoe two sizes too big, he's a warrior, etc. Sounds somewhat like OJ, yeah?
But back to the Stadium issue--even if Jenkins were late to the debate, at least she's ended up on the right side. Neil deMause, whose blog I've spoken highly of before, got his two cents in with Jenkins, instead of being completely ignored. And Jenkins really hits the point hard, and it is the kind of thing that should be front and center in the new CBA:
"But in the end, this Super Bowl taught me a lesson: Luxury can actually be debasing. The last great building binge in the NFL was from 1995 through 2003, when 21 stadiums were built or refurbished in order to create more luxury boxes, at cost of $6.4 billion. Know how much of that the public paid for? $4.4 billion. Why are we giving 32 rich guys that kind of money, just to prey on us at the box office and concessions? The Dallas deal should be the last of its kind."
It all interweaves, you see--the owners gouge us for the privilege of the experience at being at the game. They fight desperately with themselves, as they continue to win bigger and bigger contracts and technological innovations that make us want to stay home and watch the games on TV. Their stadiums cost more and more, somehow outpacing the billions and billions of dollars from the TV contracts and their own price-gouging. And they need another $1 Billion dollars back from the players. (And let's not even get to the almost completely ignored internecine warfare between owners who have new stadiums and those who don't, even though that may be where the real story is).
They blame the players for the huge contracts that they themselves award them, even as NFL players, on average, get paid less and have shorter careers (usually due to injuries) than professional players in any other major American sport, even as their own doctors are paid to get the unhealthy just well enough to go out and play. As Jenkins and Stewart Bradley so well demonstrated, they are called "team doctors" for a reason. The culture is so built in that players will take to Twitter to rip a not well particularly liked QB (like, say, Jay Cutler) for not being tough, even when his knee ligaments have been torn!
The Super Bowl match up of Steelers - Packers was almost a cosmic irony--two teams who have had what are essentially special dispensations to continue to exist. The Rooneys have owned the Steelers for ever, but were almost forced out by NFL ownership rules; the Packers are community-owned, something the NFL has gone to great lengths to never let happen again. And they played their ultimate match-up in the most gaudy, over-the-top, publicly financed building the NFL has ever seen, until, presumably, LA gets its stadium built.