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Saturday, September 12, 2009
Weekend mailbag

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com


Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


Your communication flew in from all angles this week -- be it from our fast-moving Facebook page, our ever-growing Twitter feed or just the old-fashioned mailbag. I’ll do my best to answer a representative sample of questions every weekend during the season, beginning … right now.

On with it:

Shawn of Sylvania, Ohio writes: For a perspective on your post about the effectiveness of NFL blackouts: After experiencing multiple blackouts of the Lions last year and expecting more this year. I saved up near the end of summer and got season tickets. While I don't think the blackout rule is going sell out stadiums, if it sells a couple hundred more seats to any given game, then it’s hard to argue with the league for sticking by their policies. They are a business trying to make money in hard times just as anyone else.

Kevin Seifert: On the other hand, Shawn, how many fans might the NFL/Lions lose if the games are consistently unavailable on television? That would affect television ratings, assuming the games eventually were put on air. It would take time for blackouts to have that kind of permanent impact, but it’s definitely a question to consider. Is the revenue uptick of a sellout worth the potential for a smaller – or, at least, less engaged -- fan base?

In either event, your question prompted me to seek out the 2009 Team Marketing Report, which is an excellent resource for most questions about NFL ticket prices. Team Marketing Report takes average ticket prices, along with other gameday fees, to come up with a Fan Cost Index for a day at the stadium. The FCI includes the price of four average tickets, two small beers, four small soft drinks, four hot dogs, parking for one car, two game programs and two caps. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but the numbers in this economy are astounding.

First, here are the average ticket prices in the NFC North;
  1. Chicago Bears: $88.33 (NFL Rank: 4)
  2. Minnesota Vikings: $73.23 (NFL Rank: 13)
  3. Detroit Lions: $65.72 (NFL Rank: 20)
  4. Green Bay Packers: $63.39 (NFL Rank: 24)

Now, here is the Fan Cost Index at each team’s home stadium:
  1. Chicago Bears: $501.33 (NFL rank: 3)
  2. Minnesota Vikings: $386.92 (NFL rank: 16)
  3. Detroit Lions: $380.88 (NFL rank: 20)
  4. Green Bay Packers: $376.95 (NFL rank: 22)

Based on this report, it’s not hard for me to understand why the Lions, and to a lesser extent the Vikings, are having trouble selling tickets. (As for the Bears, all I can say is good for them.) For many people, it’s not even a choice between paying $300 for four tickets or sitting at home to watch the game on television. Even those who consider it a priority might not be able to swing it.


Mike of Louisville writes: How come I can't comment on your Vikings vs. Packers WR article?

Kevin Seifert: Plenty of people were able to, Mike, but don’t feel singled out. A number of people have encountered difficulty while trying to post comments. I’ve inquired with the ESPN tech wizards and they are looking into the issue. Please bear with us in the time being. One working theory is that some older versions of internet browsers can’t link up to the server. (Or something close to that.) So if it’s really important to you, consider upgrading to a newer version of your browser.


Keith of Greensboro writes: What will the Bears do at backup running back? Now that Kevin Jones is out of the picture, are they going to use Adrian Peterson, go get a free agent to fill that void and/or will they give Matt Forte more touches as a result?

Kevin Seifert: Keith, that’s a good topic that we didn’t get a chance to delve into enough during the week. One of the Bears’ offseason goals was to lighten the load a bit on Forte, who accounted for a higher percentage of his team's total offensive yards (34.99) last season than any other player in football.

Jones was supposed to be Forte’s primary complement, but his injury has left the Bears -- for now -- with Peterson and Garrett Wolfe for depth. It wasn’t surprising that the Bears didn’t immediately jump out and sign a veteran free agent such as Dominic Rhodes; doing so would have forced them to guarantee his contract for the entire season. If they sign Rhodes or another player as early as Monday, they can pay him on a per-game basis according to NFL rules.

And based on this interview with general manager Jerry Angelo, it sounds like the Bears are hoping that Wolfe can fill the role they envisioned for Jones.
Angelo: “…I see more of an expanded role for Garrett, at least for the time being. He got a lot of work during our OTAs, in training camp and the preseason games as well, so I foresee that. Then we’ll go from there and see how our backs slot themselves.”

So consider Sunday night’s game at Lambeau Field to be a one-game tryout for Wolfe as a No. 2 back. I’ve always thought he would be ideal as a third-down back, but Forte’s receiving prowess pretty much negates the need for that. So if Wolfe is finally going to become a consistent contributor to the Bears’ offense, it’s going to have to be as a traditional runner.


Jamie of Manistique, Mich., writes: How about Jeff Garcia to the Packers? Does this make sense to anyone but me?

Kevin Seifert: Well, er, uh, I mean … yes, I can see where you’re coming from. The Packers are entering what could be a special year with a young backup in Matt Flynn. No. 3 quarterback Brian Brohm is on the practice squad. So let’s just say there is a significant dropoff from starter Aaron Rodgers. Garcia is well-versed in the West Coast offense and would probably pick up the Packers offense quickly.

And while he might not have accepted a backup role behind JaMarcus Russell in Oakland, I imagine Garcia would agree to No. 2 status in Green Bay. With all that said, however, the Packers have never expressed public concern about their quarterback depth. And despite plenty of rumors and much speculation, they’ve never actively pursued a veteran backup to my knowledge.

It’s always possible that could change next week, when they wouldn’t be forced to guarantee the contract of a vested veteran like Garcia. He would be a better insurance policy than Flynn, but at this point any acquisition would be a surprise.


Jason of Bloomington. Minn., wants to know why the Vikings cut receiver Bobby Wade and signed free agent Greg Lewis: It can’t be money, and it can’t be injury (unless there is a season ending injury that has not been reported), and it can’t be numbers. So there has to be a back story to this. You should dig some on this and let the fans know what is going on.

Kevin Seifert: We might never get the full explanation. And let’s face it: Wade was the Vikings’ No. 4 receiver. You can’t get too worked up about his departure. But I understand your point. The timing, especially, didn’t make much sense.

What I believe happened is that Wade was very much on the fringe of the roster in the first place. He was a slot receiver on a team with two younger slot receivers in Percy Harvin and Darius Reynaud. Recognizing that dynamic, Wade accepted a 50 percent pay cut last week.

But somewhat unexpectedly, a player that coach Brad Childress knows and likes became available this week. Lewis is a bit more suited to playing on the outside, and thus on paper provides a bit more flexibility and balance to the Vikings’ depth.

It’s not often that a team cuts a veteran who has already agreed to a pay cut and made the final 53-man roster. But it doesn’t appear that Wade had much leeway left with Childress, who I understand was livid this summer when Wade told reporters that he believed Tarvaris Jackson would win the team’s quarterback competition.

It was a harsh move, but it’s clear that Childress didn’t have enough affection for Wade to reconsider.