Wednesday September 16th, 2009

I've been rather bemused that this consternation about our country turning into a socialist redoubt has come at the start of the football season, for there's probably no more successful socialistic enterprise in the whole world than the National Football League.

Indeed, the NFL's descent into dreaded socialism began more than 70 years ago, when the league instituted a player draft to equalize its society, to remove, shall we say, odious class distinctions.

But the hallmark of NFL collectivism is that franchises share equally in television money -- what is now more than $20 billion in guaranteed rights fees. Largely because of that form of socialized medicine, every team has a healthy chance to win. Meanwhile, in baseball, where TV revenue is terribly unbalanced, and some rich teams even have their own networks, a small-market team like Pittsburgh, champion of the NFL, has endured 17 straight losing baseball seasons, and must sell its best players to the fat cats just to stay afloat. Compare that to last year's un-victorious Detroit Lions, where incompetence was universally accepted as a result of idiotic management, not free market poverty.

But wouldn't you know it? A pesky capitalist has found his way into the NFL owners' consortium. Jerry Jones, who bought the Cowboys for $140 million and has seen his purchase appreciate more than a thousand percent, believes it may be time to revisit the league's socialistic sharing policies and stop subsidizing the weak sisters.

Uh-oh. There goes the commune!

Jones has also just built his Cowboys a new billion-dollar stadium, but what I find so revealing are those monstrous video screens that soar over the Dallas gridiron. Jerry Jones is a pretty smart cookie, and I'm sure he realizes that, ironically, television, which was so crucial to the league's success, has now become more of a rival.

Because football televises so well, today's spectators are conditioned to need good TV even when they're incidentally watching the game live. With those large flat HD screens fans have in their family rooms, why pay to go out to a game -- especially in bad weather -- when you can see it so perfectly, comfortably at home?

The NFL better change its outdated TV policy, which has it that if a home team doesn't sell out, the game cannot be televised locally. That liturgy goes back into antiquity, when only a few sports events were televised. But today, the tube is saturated with football, and so it's dog in the manger for the NFL to deny the product that it makes $20 billion off of to fans, just because not quite enough of them want to spend outrageous prices to sit in bad seats.

In the world today, when everything else is on television, it would be better business for any NFL team to give up a few thousand admissions, so that hundreds of thousands of its fans could watch the game at home. In fact, if I were an NFL franchise with empty seats, it would be worth it for me to buy up those vacant chairs, so that happy fans could watch the product. Penny wise and pound foolish not to. And after all, it's only proper socialism to let the masses in on a good thing.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.