“The Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times”

Author and journalist Mark Leibovich writes for the New York Times and often appears on NPR and MSNBC. He usually focuses on politics and is based in Washington DC. He took time out from his usual writing about politics, some of it because of the wildly emotional 2016 Presidential election, to write about his love of professional football and the New England Patriots. The book c0vers the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and the National Football League (NFL) has moved on from some of the controversies that were prominent then. I know a lot about the NFL, having followed it since I was a child starting with the 1974 season.

Leibovich opened my eyes to the life of the owners. Much media attention is devoted to the players and coaches/general managers, so I liked the inside view of the lifestyles and dynamics of the owners. What a life they have! I would certainly try to buy a professional sports franchise if I was a billionaire. I wouldn’t devote my entire life to it, like Jerry Jones, but it would be entertaining to own a team. The NFL owners are predominantly white, Republican, old men, and it shows in the way the NFL runs its business. They treat it like a club that meets several times a year for the Super Bowl, off-season meeting, and the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Many have the trappings of wealth, including much younger beautiful girlfriends, stadium luxury suites, mega-yachts, etc. The value of professional sports teams has skyrocketed in recent years. Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson started the team with an investment of $193 million in 1993 and sold it for $2.2 billion in 2018.

Oliver, Owen and my Uncle Jack at a Philadelphia Eagles game in 2012.

I forgot how much Donald Trump talked about professional football and politicized Colin Kapernick’s protests for his own gain. Trump was also friends with some owners, especially Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Typical Trump to seize upon an incident for his own political gain. He is loathsome to me, and I am not looking forward to the 2024 elections when he will have a giant platform to spread his negativity and further divide Americans. As Douglas Murray says, Republicans look over inciting the Capital riot, Trump’s false claims of election fraud, and his immorality and corruption because he is a candidate who could win the next election. It frustrates me, but I understand the election game. Below are some other tidbits from the book I noted while reading.

  • “The NFL loves anything that evokes Rome – e.g., Roman numerals for Super Bowls, coliseums, etc.”
  • The NFL is a perfect TV sport, both in productions and ratings…only 7% of NFL fans have ever attended a game live.
  • “…tailgating is one of the truly great remnants of American unity, creativity and appetite…”
  • Leibovich described former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle “his mix of personal charm, toughness, business foresight, and political touch steered the league through a remarkable period of growth, prosperity, and turmoil in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.”
  • The NFL is a big business with current commissioner Roger Goodell aspiring to $25 billion dollars by 2027. In 2019, the league collected $15.6 billion, an all-time high. COVID brought it down to $12 billion in 2020.
  • 83% of NFL fans are white (Reuters, 2007) while 70% of the players are black.
  • Jim Harbaugh, former coach of San Francisco 49ers and current U of Michigan coach said the game is “the last bastion of hope for toughness in America in men.”
  • I liked the use of the word glib, which means insincere or shallow.

The NFL Game Experience

Owen and Oliver Enjoy the Game

Yesterday we attended a National Football League game at Lincoln Financial Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The game featured the host Philadelphia Eagles taking on the Washington Redskins. In an exciting finish, the Redskins defeated the Eagles, 27-20 to take a lead in their division. You can read about the game and see the highlights on NFL.com.

This post is more about the game experience for a family. The American sports stadium experience is much different than other countries. First of all, the tickets were extremely expensive. Our seats, as you can see, were very high up in the stadium near the end zone, cost $95 each. If you include parking ($30), food ($20 for 2 cokes, a hot dog, and small pizza) and gasoline (approx. $20), it was a $370 day. I would never pay that on a regular basis and if we had season tickets, that would be $3,700 for the year. I didn’t mind paying it for a one-time experience for the boys, but it is too much to ask for a season.

Why so high ticket prices? Well, the minimum salary for a rookie is almost $400,000 per year. I also think the cost of the stadium, which was partially publicly funded, also has to do with the cost. I don’t think the experience for me and my two children is worth $370. I would prefer to lesser level of football (player skills, stadium comfort, etc.) and a lower ticket price.

Robert Griffin III hands off to the running back

That being said, we really had a great time and it continued the boys’ interest in football. We’ve been playing everyday during the holidays, which is becoming a Christmas break tradition.

As I written before, attending a game is really an excuse to drink. I am not sure how many fans understand the game well or have played the game. Personally, football is the sport I enjoy watching the most. Despite an average of only 11 minutes of action per 3-hour game, it is the only sport (except Detroit Tiger baseball game, or Tour De France or Olympics) I can watch from start to finish.

Another aspect of going to the game is comparing it to staying at home and watching the game on television. With the hassles of lining up to get in, the cold, having limited access to other game highlights and statistics, the NFL should really consider the in-game experience. It is much more comfortable to stay home with the DirecTV Red Zone channel and watch all of the games.

I would like to thank my Uncle Jack for getting the tickets and taking us to the game. It was an experience we will not forget!

Green Bay Packers: A Money-Making Machine

I apologize to my readers about not blogging much lately. With the passing of my father and jet lag, I really didn’t feel much like writing. I do want to do two a couple of blog posts on my time in the USA, and then I’ll start again this week with my blogging about Serbia.

The city of Green Bay, Wisconsin is the largest regional airport near my home village of Caspian, Michigan. It is also the closest American Airlines gets to Caspian. Before we flew back to Belgrade, we spent the day in Green Bay and due to my son’s interest in American Football, we took the tour of the Lambeau Field, home of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. The stadium is like the Wembely of American Football. The Packers were one of the original teams in the NFL and have more championships (13) than any other franchise. The Packers won seven of those titles in the 1930’s and 40’s, but they did win the first two Super Bowls, in 1967-68, and they won two more in 1996 and 2010. The field has seen many historic games, and being located so far north, it is nicknamed the “frozen tundra.”

They are also a unique major professional sports franchise in that they are publicly-owned team. The league started in small towns in the midwest, and they are the last remaining. It is amazing that such a small city as Green Bay, which has a metropolitan population of just over 200,000 can support one of the best teams in one of the richest leagues in the world. The city and surrounding area are fanatical (borderline obsessed) about the team, and support it both financially and emotionally.

For example, we took the official stadium tour on a Wednesday afternoon in February. Our group had about 20 people and it was one of the six tours going that day. It was a very interesting tour and we got to see the atrium, luxury suites, go down on the field, and even run out of the players’ tunnel, just like the team does on Sundays. I couldn’t get over how much money the team generates! We went into a 25-person suite that charges $102,000 to rent for the season. The stadium seats  over 80,000 people and they have a waiting list of season tickets of 96,000 people. Last summer, they wanted to raise funds for a $143 million stadium expansion, and so they printed “stock” certificates and charged $250 each. They sold out immediately, even though the stock is worthless. In the stadium there are restaurants, bars, conference rooms, etc. They even offer to get married in the stadium! The gift shop is two floors and is the size of a Wal Mart.

Owen and Ollie loved the tour and they both bought jerseys. Owen especially loves the game, as Ollie is a bit young. We’ll have to try to make it back for their summer camp one of these years. Unfortunately, I am not a Packers fan. People in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are mixed between supporting the Packers, Detroit Lions (my team), Minnesota Vikings, and Chicago Bears. I say unfortunately, because the Lions have not won any Super Bowls and only 4 championships, despite starting in 1930 and the last championship was in 1957.

There is a small football following here in Belgrade, and there is even a league, the Central European Football League, with the Belgrade Vukovi, the defending champions. We will check out some of the games down at Ada Ciganlija. The season begins in two weeks and runs through June. A

In thinking about the impact of the Packers on the city, they do take a lot of money that would go to other businesses. However, I think that they bring in as much as they take. Without the team, Green Bay would be a non-descript mid-sized town near the Great Lakes. Instead, it is known throughout the nation. The Packers are one of the “national” teams and due to the influence of television and the internet, also have a national following.

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