Like all pro-sports these days, it's all about the money

nflI used to enjoy the NFL back in the day. I grew up watching the Oakland Raiders with my dad in the 1970’s and ’80’s. It was the glory days of the league, where institutions and mythologies were established. Now these institutions have become nothing more than a huge stable of cash cows.

What I loved about the game was its excitement. At any moment the underdog could find a fissure in the structure and the dam would burst, flooding everyone with awe and glee at the sheer inconceivableness of it all.

Part of the allure for me, back in the day was that I could believe in people like Fred Biletnikoff. He wasn’t a fast runner, but he was smart and full of grit. I could imagine myself being him someday, and playing for a championship. Just rooting for him was fulfilling, because he wasn’t supposed to be there. And he’s a Hall of Famer. If he was playing today’s game, I doubt he’d make the team.

Like in all pro sports these days, it used to be that Joe Football played the game for the thrill. It wasn’t his occupation; he had several jobs to make a living, especially during the off-season. Joe Football played for the love of the game. And that was enough for most legends.

Nowadays, the professional athlete has no off-season. He is a non-stop profit margin manufacturer. The game is now a huge business. A $9 billion a year business to be exact, and growing. NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell wants to reach $25 billion in annual revenues for the league by the year 2027. The NFL television contracts for 2014 alone are close to $5 billion… Just for the right for the games to be televised. The average team is currently worth $1.17 billion.

Today’s NFL experience is a high-ticket item, and has become more exclusive in the last couple decades, in line with the distribution of wealth in America. Class distinction is such that the average fan can’t afford to be a season ticket holder anymore. The average ticket costs around $80 and is steadily increasing while our salaries are not.

It’s big business now, and it’s lost me, a true fan. I still consider myself a Raiders fan, but their organization is now middle to lower class and falling. The elite seek to get even “eliter” and build huge multimedia stadiums to drain the fanatical of their paychecks. More corporations are owning sections of these new stadiums where they can throw bones to their trusted true-fan underlings because it’s such a glitzy thing to be seen at one of these high class events – like going to the Oscar’s without the fashion industry. At least, not yet.

So go ahead, sell your Super Bowl Air-Time for cabillions of dollars, and charge patrons who somehow find themselves at the game $20 for a Coors Light in a plastic collector’s cup. You might as well, they paid $3,000 per ticket to be there. I’ll be doing something else with my time. Like trying to find a way to pay my mortgage.

Fred Biletnikoff, nfl