So much for free football

“What the hell are you talkin’ about: free? Free? There’s no free here. I’m the boss. No freedom. I’m the boss.”

Danny Aeillo as Sal in Do The Right Thing, 1989

I don’t remember the first time I paid for bottled water.  Nor am I sure when, as George Carlin put it, “we suddenly became so dehydrated as a nation.”  I can say with absolute certainty, however, that both happened within my lifetime.

No one is arguing our healthy need for water.  That’s a fact.  We only question our need to pay for a renewable resource that we’ve paid to dirty, yet now must pay to clean.

But I digress.

Water is not the only thing that we now pay for that we once got for free.  Don’t get me wrong, wearing a jersey, going to a football game and having a cold beer while there, costs money, increasingly so.   Always has.  But now, even the formerly free costs money. 

We may soon reach the point where football is no longer free at all.  In other words, the NFL’s cash cow is no longer giving away free milk, or bottled water for that matter.

We’ve seen it in college, exponentially recently, the constant shuffling of conferences and ultimately, some of their disbanding.  Entire football programs have dissolved as well.

But the NFL has become so popular that it can now dictate its own terms, regardless of how ridiculous that concept might have seemed only years ago.  You may not care for Roger Goodell personally, but the NFL commissioner has overseen the rise of his sport so expansive that he’ll soon be making close to $100 million a year for his efforts, or at least his timing, and he’s probably being short-changed.  In no other sport does a commissioner make more than its top tier athletes.  Not even close.  In the NFL, no athlete makes as much as Goodell, and it’s not even close.

Some of that money is mine and I’m perfectly okay with that.  The sport brings me year-round enjoyment.  However, the NFL is veering closer to making its sport inaccessible, teetering dangerously with the laws of supply and demand.

BCole and I were out to dinner the other night, our usual romantic adult evening out during football season, gazing deeply into each other’s eyes as only time outs and commercials allow.  This date night happened to coincide with the Hall of Fame Game, the NFL’s celebration of those it annually enshrines during its preseason opener.  It’s a big deal.

Apparently too big of a deal to watch for free.

I asked the bartender at our restaurant of choice #CheesecakeAnyone to change the channel to the game, which she graciously did, only to find out their DirecTV did not carry NBC.


NBC, I thought, was one of the original big three.  To ever pay additionally for NBC through anything other than your electric bill was once incomprehensible.  Then came “cable,” but still, NBC was always free.  The National Broadcasting Company (bong BONG bong) was traditionally paid through its advertisers who consumers paid for through the products they’d bought.  We never paid for NBC directly.  And now, we’re being denied it, thanks largely in part to the NFL and the network’s inability to successfully negotiate a contract with DirecTV.  I don’t blame NBC.  They’re simply trying to recoup expenses.  But at what cost?  The cost of people not being allowed to view their network when a game is on.

So much for your free water and milk.

Everything has changed before our very eyes, the NFL’s ever-expanding version of pay-per-view.  All networks, old and new, pay a premium for professional and college sports and they’re passing the cost on to you.  I can assure you it’s not going to get better with time.

The NFL now has contracts with Amazon, NBC, Fox, ESPN/ABC, Youtube, its own network and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few.  Don’t be surprised if you turn on your set to find a game that you can’t because you haven’t paid extra for that channel, then go out to your local pub to find the same game, only to find they don’t have it either.

It’s the cost of doing business and someone is getting very, very rich at our expense.

I don’t fault anyone for finding fortune from a product that sparks immeasurable demand.  The Super Bowl is, and has been, a worldwide event.  I’ve watched every one of them since childhood (so have you) and will watch every one of them until I pass (so will you).  NFL Sundays cause people to put their lives on hold and obsess, all… day…long.  Monday night caps off the week.  Thursdays begin it.  We can’t escape it, nor do we want to.  We just didn’t know they were going to be charging so much for it so soon.

It’s a different time.  Industries are struggling to determine how to stay profitable while catering to an expanding audience, competing for worldwide attention and more importantly, for our dollars.  The NFL still maintains a healthy stranglehold thanks to our desire to watch our fellow man de-cleat another while we wager on it from the comfort of our own air-conditioned homes. 

Rest assured the league will be getting theirs one way or another.  Just make sure you’re watching the right channel and have enough bottled water for the occasion.

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4 Replies to “So much for free football”

  1. Earlier this afternoon, I saw a headline that the Buccaneers’ happy days are over. And I said “so what.” The Lightning and the Buccaneers have given us all of the good and happy times we’ve ever needed. And by the time you’re forty years old, how could you continue to bear living in a state filled with fans of NFC East teams? I feel bad for you, working in a profession in which every single year, you have to pay attention to the fans of NFC East teams. Here in Ocala, Jacksonville Jaguars games are on broadcast. It’s all about the Jaguars, whether they’re in Jacksonville or whether their remodeled stadium forces them to play in Daytona Beach.

  2. Greg…

    I see this season as a win-win for the Buccaneers.

    Look, nobody is expecting them to do what they did when Brady was here. So, they’ll let Baker and Trask do their thing.

    If one of them (or both) succeed, then we’ll have wins to root for.

    If they both fail, the Bucs will look to next year’s draft to draft their quarterback of the future (and hopefully, there will be one).

    Either way, the fans will show up and cheer. We’ll win games we shouldn’t and lose games we shouldn’t. I just hope Bowles doesn’t waffle back and forth between the two, which I can easily see happening.

    If he doesn’t show control over this mess, he’ll be out along with ’em.

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