I hate exhibition games.
NFL, NBA, NHL…even MLB, with the splendor of spring training, still wastes its time with the exhibition games.
My hatred of exhibition games is not contained to preseason formats. I hate all star games and pro bowls as well. To put it simply, if winning and losing the game has no purpose, then it is not worth playing. And do not get me started on the MLB All Star game, that is a rant for another day.
As we have entered the preseason for the 2016 season of the NFL, we are all once again about to be barraged by a litany of substandard football played predominantly by players who will never see a second of a meaningful NFL game. The real insulting aspect of these games is that they continue to get national coverage while fans are stuck paying full price for a fraction of the worth.
But I am not one to just whine ad nauseam without offering some suggestions. First let’s look at the purpose of these preseason games. In the days of yore players could not afford to live solely off the salary earned playing for their respective teams, so they would all work in the offseason. Furthermore, football was not exactly the favorite past time of the intellectual masses. At the time Boxing and Baseball were the sports dominating the headlines and even in those sports very few athletes were able to make a full time living. In football, most of the players were laborers in their offseason lives and that type of work does not lend itself well to continuously working out and practicing. Therefore the NFL instituted the preseason as a way for the athletes to get back into game-playing shape. So that was the players’ motivation for agreeing to and even asking for preseason games.
The primary reason for their advent, however; is the same for their purpose today: money. Originally football seasons were merely a series of exhibitions where teams would barnstorm across the country and the two competing teams would split the gate. The same mostly holds true today, where games are played merely for money due to the television contracts and the money generated from ticket sales. In fact, season ticket holders who do not want to pay for preseason games are at risk at losing their PSLs and even their season tickets altogether. Essentially, the most loyal fans are blackmailed into paying for these atrocities called games.
Here is my suggestion. Teams are at their own discretion to schedule inter-squad competitions with other teams. The teams involved must pay for the use of league officials. Games to be held either on neutral sites or on the host team’s training site. Season ticket holders get in for free, general public pays $10 per ticket and it is all festival seating.
The positive of this plan is that it creates goodwill towards the fanbases, it maintains the same purpose for the players and coaches in regards to finalizing rosters, and it gives the teams more autonomy and control over the situations in which their players participate, which would hopefully lead to less injuries. Also, the players themselves would likely be in favor of this due to the less formal nature and, again, the reduced chance for injury in the custom-made environment.
The negative is obvious…it will never happen. There is too much money at stake and there is not enough of an uproar from the fans to incentivize the owners to make any change. Therefore preseason will stay the way it is for the foreseeable future.
For what it is worth, it is important to remember that sports are in the entertainment business. Sports are not televised and obsessed over merely due to the spirit of competition. We all watch and follow our respective teams to be entertained. Right now all sports, particularly the NFL, are failing miserably to do their jobs and for whatever reason most people seem to be ok with that. Personally, I would like the NFL to take a page out of the WWE playbook and embrace the entertainment side of things a bit more and maybe, just maybe, these games would not be so painful to watch.