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The NFL owners have been crushed during the lockout in the court of public opinion, not to mention the real court. It's as though Reggie Bush and Rashard Mendenhall are freelancing as their PR council.
But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners could turn the tide and get the public on their side by promising to make the following changes to the way fans watch NFL football. The owners are responsible for the lockout, so they need to look for ways to get back into the good graces of football fans.
Lower ticket prices -- The owners should announce that if they get what they want out of the new collective bargaining agreement, they will lower ticket prices $10 across the board. There's no better way to get fans on their side. And just imagine all the new demographics to which this move would open the live, NFL stadium experience. It wouldn't just be the rich at games anymore. Families that earn $200,000 to $250,000 a year, the almost-rich, could go to one game, too -- as long as they carpool with another almost-rich family to save on parking, of course.
Fewer commercials -- Same principle as lowering ticket prices: If the league makes out in the CBA, it shouldn't need as much money from television. I'm sure the current format of commercial break, touchdown, commercial break, extra point, commercial break, kickoff, commercial break seems perfect for NFL owners, but they are very old men who need as many breaks in the action as possible. Those of us who are younger and are not incontinent would like less interruption.
But maybe I can't claim to speak for all sports fans on this. Hockey and soccer have the fewest commercial interruptions, and they are the least popular of the major American sports. Maybe deep inside, Americans just yearn to be told what to buy by the guy from "Dexter" and the guy from "Mad Men."
Just imagine if the owners don't get what they want in the CBA. They'll claim poverty, and the above advertising sequence will look more like huddle, commercial break, teams go to the line of scrimmage, commercial break, ball is snapped, commercial break, play is completed, commercial break. The on-the-field product will be terrible. And we'll all be broke from buying junk we don't need.
Stadium upgrades -- With the players locked out of NFL stadiums, there's no reason every NFL team shouldn't be upgrading their stadiums. More video boards, more and better concession stands, more bathrooms (the fans at the stadium have to do something during all the commercial breaks), updating the stats and information delivery system to sync with smartphones and iPads. The lockout has been going on for two months now. There won't be any games until August, at the earliest. All these upgrades can be made at every stadium. Well, OK, not every stadium. Jerry Jones and the Cowboys will be able to almost finish only one of them. Everything is bigger at Cowboys Stadium! Even the failure!
Change the TV-blackout policy -- The same markets tend to fall victim to blackouts. Perhaps that's a clue that the blackout policy doesn't work. "What's that? You're not really excited to watch this game! Then ... ha-HA! You can't watch this game! Take THAT!"
Just imagine if other sports had this policy. Floridians wouldn't even know the Marlins and Rays existed. Or the Lightning or Panthers. Or Heat. Or Magic. Or ... yeah, Florida probably shouldn't have professional sports. But I digress.
More access is always better than less access. It builds a fan base over time. All the NFL blackout policy does is punish fans who can't afford to go to games. No one has this conversation: "Look, honey, I know we're late on the rent. But I need to go to the Buccaneers game so our fellow Tampans can watch it on television. It's just the right thing to do."
Promotions -- It's hard to go to a Major League Baseball game and leave without free stuff. Every baseball team has 81 home games a year. Football teams have eight. Yet football gives nothing to its fans. The cost of giving away 50,000 San Francisco 49ers water bottles or 25,000 Tim Tebow T-shirts is worth the goodwill it would build. NFL teams should borrow from baseball and give away calendars, stuffed animals, figurines, piggy banks, T-shirts, jerseys, bobbleheads ... OK, maybe not bobbleheads in the current concussion era. But you get the idea.
More throwback jerseys -- Fans are suspicious of third, alternate jerseys. They're seen as the money grabs that they are. But throwback jerseys? "Why, they're just celebrating our franchise's proud history! I will happily pay $125 for that!" Fans like watching teams play in classic throwback uniforms, fans like making fun of teams playing in hilariously ugly throwback uniforms, and the league likes making money off of new jersey sales. It's a win-win-win.
Free NFL RedZone -- Anyone who has had the NFL RedZone channel would happily pay for it again. And really at any price. It's crack for football fans. But, again, the NFL owners started the lockout and it's on them to make it up to the fans. So why not comp RedZone for a year? YAY!
You know what? Scrap all these other stupid ideas. Just comp RedZone channel for a year, get all NFL fans addicted, then in 2012, bump the price up to $4,000. The addicted fans will still pay for it, the league will make a fortune and all of this current squabbling over a few billion will look foolish. I've ended the lockout. Thanks, me. The NFL reopens for business tomorrow!
DJ Gallo is the founder of SportsPickle.com. His first book, "The View from the Upper Deck," is available from only the finest bargain-book retailers. His next book project will be released soon. You can follow him on Twitter at @DJGalloESPN.
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