Commentary

Do fans really want 18 NFL games?

Updated: February 12, 2011, 1:13 AM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell means well, he really does. It's obvious that he cares about the game, its fans and its players.

But remember -- always remember -- that Goodell was hired by the owners. And at the end of the day, at the end of every day, Goodell's allegiances mimic those of his real constituency, those 32 NFL ownership groups.

Goodell has a problem. Bit by bit, news conference by news conference, crisis by crisis, his credibility is beginning to show some bare spots. And so is his league.

The more Goodell talks, the less sense he makes sometimes. His view of the NFL world is in serious need of Lasik surgery.

[+] EnlargeSteelers Fans
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesSeats at Heinz Field are definitely worth the price to fans during the regular season. In the preseason, though, they're hard to sell.

In the past week alone, Goodell has presided over a Super Bowl week that was more botched than Christina Aguilera's rendition of the national anthem, a game-day ticket screwup that quickly mushroomed into a PR disaster and a talking-points strategy that occasionally defies logic and the facts.

Paint all the lipstick you want on the lips of the North Texas Super Bowl XLV pig, but the whole week still had a curly tail and an odor to it. The people in the Metroplex were fabulously friendly, but the local infrastructure wasn't prepared for the ice storm and snowstorm that swept through the region. It was as if local officials had never heard of Weather.com.

Goodell acknowledged the debilitating weather, but he didn't acknowledge the problems (and lack of solutions) that came with it. Instead, he planted wet ones on the leadership of the community, the head of the Super Bowl host committee and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, among others.

Out-of-town fans who braved the ice-caked roads, the overwhelmed hotels and the closed D/FW airport knew better.

And how about those 1,250 fans who paid $800 apiece for their Super Bowl tickets, only to discover that seats were optional? Not only did the NFL know earlier in the week that the seating section might not be ready by kickoff, but it didn't inform those ticket holders of the problem. Nor does it appear the league had much of a contingency plan in place. If it did, whoever executed it needs to update his résumé.

Since then, Goodell has issued apologies and the NFL has issued a series of reimbursement offers. But what Goodell should have done, especially to the 400 ticket holders who weren't re-seated, was ditch his cozy stadium suite and watch the game on TV with those displaced fans.

Anyway, too late. A $5 million federal lawsuit was filed Wednesday on behalf of about 1,000 ticket holders. And then there is the looming possibility of an owners-initiated lockout of the players. This is what happens when the owners and union can't play nice over a $9 billion golden goose.

As part of his usual collective bargaining agreement stump speech, Goodell addressed the impasse and again campaigned for an 18-game regular season and a two-game preseason.

"The fans have clearly stated that they don't like the quality of our preseason," Goodell said of the present four-game exhibition model.

Is that so? Then how do you explain a recent Associated Press-Knowledge Networks poll that showed only 27 percent of the respondents strongly or somewhat favored an increase from 16 to 18 regular-season games? Or that just 18 percent of those identified specifically as NFL fans strongly favor an expanded regular season? Or that Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney is against any such expansion?

"I talk to fans all the time," said Goodell. "I get that feedback from them, including season-ticket holders who are the ones that are going to those preseason games and paying for those preseason games." Goodell hasn't talked to Steelers season-ticket holders Anthony Pietrcollo and Nick Neupauer, or soon-to-be-former Jacksonville Jaguars season-ticket holder Andy Ferris.

"Nah, I'll be honest with you," said Pietrcollo, a Steelers season-ticket holder for 25 years. "I haven't talked to anyone who's in favor of the 18-game schedule. We are against paying full price for preseason games."

See, that's what Goodell won't say. He won't say that NFL owners have stuck it to their season-ticket holders for years, forcing them to pay the same bloated price for warmed-over appetizers as they do for full entrees. Instead, you get this from Goodell: "And repeatedly the fans have said the quality of the preseason doesn't meet NFL standards."

[+] EnlargePackers
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesFor this fan, a Super Bowl win was worth the cost. It's not clear that two extra regular-season games would be as valuable to fans.

No, Roger, the fans have said the NFL's rip-off preseason pricing structure doesn't meet fairness standards. Nobody expects preseason games to be more than glorified scrimmages and talent evaluations. But to charge full boat?

"I can't get rid of them," said Pietrcollo of his preseason tickets.

"It's hard to give them away," said Ferris, who's bagging his pair of Jaguars tickets because he's getting married. "I have to struggle to find friends who can make it and want to go to those games."

"I have four tickets at $68 per ticket," said Neupauer, the Butler (Pa.) County Community College president who spent 15 years on the Steelers' waiting list before getting the thumbs up this season. "I'm eating $544 for those [preseason games]. ... When I have tried to sell those tickets, I have literally listed them at $20 to $25 and there hasn't been a market for them."

Forget the 18-game schedule. Your Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers put 15 players on injured reserve during a 16-game regular season. They lost a linebacker leading up to the Super Bowl and three defensive backs and a wide receiver during the actual game, the Packers' 20th of the season, not counting preseason. Just imagine if they had to play 22 total games; Herb Adderley would have had to suit up.

Baby steps, NFL. If you're going to share a future Super Bowl bed with the Metroplex again, at least spring for some snow plows and rock salt.

If you're going to sell Super Bowl tickets, make sure you have the seats to go with them. Or very good lawyers.

And if you're going to hard sell an 18-game schedule, prove that someone other than Goodell and the owners actually want the added games.

"To me," said Pietrcollo, "they've got the greatest show on earth. ... I would tell the owners the same thing I told you: I don't think anybody here is being hurt financially."

Nobody, except the fans.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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