Charging full price for National Football League preseason tickets is the biggest rip-off in professional sports.
Finally, the NFL is attempting to do something about it.
Serving as a spokesman for the league, Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy unveiled a plan last week in which the NFL would expand the regular season to 18 games and reduce the preseason to two games starting in 2012.
It’s a terrific idea but must first meet with the approval of NFL players, who would be exposed to more injuries and potentially shorter careers under the expanded schedule.
Fans love the idea of adding two meaningful games to the schedule. Season ticket holders being forced to pay full price for preseason games borders on legalized theft, so the NFL deserves credit for acknowledging and attempting to rectify the problem.
“Part of it is really providing more value to our fans,” Murphy told the NFL Network. “The quality of our preseason has really deteriorated over time.”
In a follow-up interview with the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Murphy said the regular season would still begin after Labor Day, and the extra games would be added to the end of the schedule in January. That would push the Super Bowl back two weeks to the third Sunday in February.
That increases the number of late-season cold-weather games, but Murphy said starting the regular season in August during summer vacations wouldn’t generate sufficient interest and Southern cities would have “real heat issues.”
Training camp would likely begin a week later and teams would receive a bye after the two-game preseason in addition to another bye during the regular season.
With the NFL and its players in negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement, Murphy is hoping a plan to expand the regular season will bring the sides together.
“This might be something that could help us move toward an agreement with the players,” Murphy said. “It’s working together with the players to generate additional revenue.”
That sounds good in theory, but the players haven’t exactly been doing cartwheels over the new plan.
“I think the NFL season is long enough as it is,” Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said in a Phoenix radio interview. “It is a real grind. … It’s a brutal sport.”
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis echoed those sentiments in a statement to the players’ association.
“I know our fans may not like preseason games and I don’t like all of them, but swapping two preseason games for two end-of-season games — when players already play hurt — comes at a huge cost for the player and the team,” Lewis said.
While starters generally only play a total of between four and six quarters during four preseason games, Murphy said there are other factors that could win them over.
A shorter training camp means fewer two-a-day practices, for example. The NFL would also consider reducing the number of organized team activity practices during the offseason, expanding the roster and practice squads and forming a developmental league for young players.
“From the players’ perspective, it’s a chance to grow revenue, create more jobs, and to further develop players,” Murphy said.
Fitzgerald acknowledged that if players are paid for two extra games, they might be willing to play them.
Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs is one of the few players so far to publicly favor the idea.
“I’ll take an 18-game schedule over four preseason games where we all get paid $1,100 a game,” Briggs told the Chicago Tribune. “Yes, absolutely, I think that players who are going out there are under-compensated for the work that we put out there on the field in the preseason.”
As with everything else in pro sports, the success of this plan will come down to cold, hard cash. The NFL can achieve its goal of adding two regular-season games only if it entices players with enough extra money.
Mike Vandermause is sports editor of the Press-Gazette.