Thursday, August 28, 2008

Vikings' Fans Deserve Better

Many years ago, the NFL, with the blessing of the NFLPA, implemented a six-game preseason schedule. At the time, most, if not all NFL teams viewed preseason games as both a necessary evil and as an ancillary means of generating more revenue.

The six-game preseason schedule was short-lived for two primary reasons. First and foremost, it was too long for players who accrued no games played under the NFLPA pension fund system for preseason games despite the increased risk of injury from playing additional minutes.

The six-game preseason was also far too long for increasingly anxious fans who were forced to endure the agony not only of watching sub-par players battle for jobs during much of the preseason but also of watching the money slowly drain from their pocket books. For, as owners looked to improve already generous revenue flows, they increasingly turned to the preseason to pad this cash flow, forcing fans to pay for preseason games as part of their season ticket packages--all with the NFL's blessing.

After several rounds of negotiation with the NFLPA, the NFL agreed to reduce the preseason schedule back to the theretofore established standard of four preseason games in exchange for what ultimately became the current seventeen-week format.

The NFL has long endeavored to make the NFL season longer to cash in on what has been a league-wide cash cow--game day revenue generated from ticket sales, concessions, parking, and, of course, the additional money that the league can ask in television and radio rights for additional weeks of play.

Everything has worked well for NFL owners and players, if less so for the players. For the owners, the money continues to pour in. Likewise for the players, though at the cost of playing games, while simultaneously enduring shorter rosters.

While owners and players make out, however, fans continue to be left in the lurch. Though fans truly have only themselves to blame for continuing to pony up for season tickets, thereby being forced to pay for preseason games for which most fans have little to no interest, the pilfering of fans on this front is not even the greatest of the larceny charges against the NFL regarding the preseason.

NFL patrons have the most right to feel aggrieved not for being required to pay for four meaningless games as part of their season-ticket package, but for having to pay for games that NFL teams have made even more irrelevant by refusing to play their starters for most of the game in any of the games. The final indignity is that most NFL teams now routinely use the final preseason game to play the fourth- and fifth-string players, resting the starters for the entire game.

That final indignity presumption assumes, of course, that there are no further indignities, which there are. In Minnesota, the further indignity includes having a head coach holding out all of his team's starters in the final preseason game under the guise of keeping to his vest his regular season plays.

The problem for the Minnesota Vikings, a problem evident in each of head coach Brad Childress' first two season in Minnesota, is not that opponents know the Vikings' best kept plays prior to the regular season, but that the Vikings' opponents have the book on a predictable offense. This year, the Vikings can add to that difficulty the fact that their offense is wholly out of sync in the preseason.

Old dogs, it is said, cannot be taught new tricks. As an old dog, the NFL has adapted reasonably well to a changing environment, often leading the change rather than being led by change. For all of its success, however, the NFL, like most institutions, needs an occasional face lift. For its part, the NFL usually recognizes its warts and takes action either to remove or hide the warts. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of all of the NFL's constituent parts.

Up Next: AP and TJ.

6 comments:

Peter said...

Psh, I have little sympathy for season ticket holders on this issue. Take the total price of the tickets, divide by 16 games, and make your decision based on the result cost-per-game. If it's not worth it, watch the game on your couch.

I go to one pro football game per season max, and am perfectly content.

Rest the starters. No sense hurting anyone important. And if fans don't want to watch, they shouldn't show up. That would send a clear enough message. Sure the tickets are paid for, but if concessions go unsold, parking lots sit empty, and stadium advertisers begin to pay less for the undesireable ad space, TV and radio advertising revenues will drop as well.

Simply ignore the preseason, and it will eventually dwindle.

vikes geek said...

Peter,

As I note, I essentially agree with you regarding ticket prices. If you don't like the terms, don't buy. It's bush league to charge for games that the league considers amateur hour, but purchasers have a choice.

The larger point, however, is that the Vikings have further diminished preseason by not using the opportunity to address pressing issues. For three straight seasons, the team has left the preseason admonishing fans that the preseason is not telling as to where the team stands. For the first two seasons, the Vikings' preseason issues carried over into the regular season. Will this season prove any different?

VG

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Cabrito said...

Before you move on to another post, VG, I'd just like to put in my own two cents worth on pre-season games. They are, as you say, a complete ripoff. What are they good for? Two purposes come to mind, both overrated. (1) They are supposed to provide an actual competitive situation in which first string units can work together, get their timing down, etc. Well, if coaches really valued this potential benefit, why do they play their starting units only two quarters and usually one half of four complete games? I guess they don't think the benefits are worth the risks. (2) They allow rookies, undrafted free agents, etc., a chance to show their stuff. HA!!!!!!!!! In fact, excellent play in the preseason is rarely rewarded with roster spots. Consider Martin Nance. He was virtually the only consistent offense the Vikings were able to mount in the preseason -- 8 catches for 144 yards and a touchdown. The result? He was cut. And that defensive back named Sumrall -- he did a lot of good things, but it didn't help him much. Let's face it, preseason games play a very minor role in the judging of talent. I can only conclude that if coaches deliberately neglect to take advantage of either of these potential benefits, preseason games have little value and ought to be reduced in number. Two per season would undoubtedly suffice.

vikes geek said...

Cabrito,

The purpose of preseason games has always been to generate additional revenue. While the league continues to discuss lopping off two preseason games and adding two--a decision that will require the approval of the players' association--there truly is no need even for the two preseason games. Once whittled down to two preseason games, coaches simply will prorate their use of starters to adjust for the change. That likely will mean three quarters for the starters over two games. For coaches like Childress, it might even mean far less time for the starters. The only way preseason games will ever disappear will be if the NFLPA agrees to a 20-game schedule and they will only do so if rosters are expanded and the salary cap increases. The league will then propose preseason games after a few seasons and we will be back where we started, with four preseason games. The only difference will be that teams will be collecting far more for season tickets, even on an adjusted basis, because there will be more regular season games and preseason games.

VG