The NFL Bling Machine — Preseason Style

Tuning in to sports radio and social media, most football fans are fed up with the NFL preseason. I don’t blame them — it’s a subpar product. Not to mention, the lack of connection to free agents and journeymen fighting to live that dream, despite the helmets and laundry they’re doing it in.

And everytime a star player suffers a season-ending injury, the call-in shows and chat rooms explode with angry fans. Legions of them, shouting down the value of these meaningless games.

How did the NFL get here and how does it get out?

Years ago, players held regular jobs in the off-season. Training camps were clinics to whip players into shape. Nowadays, it’s a year-round profession where players remain in optimum condition. Add in OTA’s, minicamps and the four-game preseason schedule (five if you draw the Hall-Of-Fame Game), it all seems dated.

Cut back the preseason? The exhibition schedule? Both?

Coaching staffs need the time and space to field the most competitive roster for the regular season. If coaches don’t have a support system in place, the entire process suffers. Eliminating preseason games and shortening training camps could end up doing more harm than good.

I understand the diehard fan’s frustration with exhibition games — we’re all anxious for ‘real’ football. However, impatience never succeeds in speeding up any process. And in the NFL, it’s all about the end game — the rings and Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Every NFL coach builds through a process. Creating a Super Bowl caliber product and culture starts with practice and continuity.

Due to the concussion protocols and rash of serious injuries, the latest collective bargaining agreement has scaled back practice time with full-pad workouts and physical contact. Many head coaches privately grumble these new rules have not only compromised preparation, but regular season games as well.

It’s critical the NFL come up with a plan for coaches to evaluate talent while working inside the parameters of these guidelines. Why not fuse the final minicamps as a bridge to the preseason? Limited sessions with nominal contact is still an opportunity for players to learn game plans and coaches to assess the depth of their rosters.

And what about the fans? 
 
 The NFL needs to engage with the fans and use the preseason 
 as an opportunity to thank these loyal customers.

 
How about rewarding folks for spending vacation time at the training camps of their favorite teams? Why not open an NFL Experience and other clinics for kids to learn about the game? Chat room sessions with NFL greats, past and present to engage with fans and answer questions?

NFL teams could devise a buy one ticket get one free promotion for preseason games and other friendly packages — Major League Baseball has been doing this in their regular schedule for years. Why not offer those on waiting lists for season tickets an opportunity to buy the two home exhibition games at reduced cost with premium seating?

Why did the Memorial Coliseum draw such a sparse crowd during it’s ‘Battle For Los Angeles’? Maybe if they gave away more tickets, folks living paycheck to paycheck would have attended. What better way to have a community outreach at the grass roots level? Flash forward 15 years:

Hey Joey, how did you become such a big fan?
 The team gave us free preseason tickets when my family couldn’t afford to go otherwise.

Guess what? Those young Joeys are all going to grow up being season ticket holders. They’re also going to purchase whack loads of merchandise for them and their kids. What part of this doesn’t the NFL understand?

Shaving off a few bucks for tickets and parking at preseason games doesn’t cut it. The current rates are still too pricey for the average guy — and guess what, he’s not going. Who’s at fault for that?

The NFL needs to start caring beyond the bottom line and the next lucrative TV package. The preseason is a terrific opportunity for the league to engage with fans and value their loyalty. And if the NFL ever wakes up to this, I’m sure talk radio, blogs and social media will help spread the word on the new, improved and generous outlook.