Cities bend over backward to build stadiums for the NFL commissioner's teams, usually on their own dime. Television networks back up armored trucks to the league's Park Avenue headquarters for the rights to carry games. And loving fans stream through those stadium turnstiles in droves to enjoy the NFL experience.
It sounds pretty good for King Roger. Or does it? The third part of that equation, the part where rabid fans pay hundreds of dollars for tickets, tens of dollars to park, exorbitant prices for concession products all to sit in hot temperatures in September and in freezing conditions in December often next to foul-mouthed drunks isn't quite so appealing to a growing number of people.
Apparently more and more folks in NFL cities are weighing the prospect of watching games at bars, or on their cell phones, or just in the comfort of their living rooms against the "privilege" of taking in an oh-so-special Detroit-Buffalo November clash from the splendor of Ralph Wilson Stadium and saying, to paraphrase Eric Cartman, "Screw you guys, I'm staying home."
A USA Today survey of the 32 teams found that of the 29 that responded, eight could not rule out the prospect that any of their home games would not be sold out at least 72 hours before kickoff, thus triggering a television blackout. And two of the three that didn't respond, the Lions and the Raiders, both had multiple blackouts last year.
Indeed, the argument could be made that the league and its television partners, in concert with those nice high-def television manufacturers, have made the game so visually striking that the cheerleaders aren't the most beautiful parts of watching the games anymore.
(OK, they still are, but you get the idea.)
FOX, for example, plans to air each of its games this season in a format that will make it appear as if you're watching in HD -- even if you don't have HD. Rest assured that it won't be all that long before all the other carriers join suit, and 3-D telecasts can't be all that far away.
And if you're willing to pay for a satellite dish or really good cable, you can get the RedZone channel and see all the touchdowns without having to mess with those pesky third-and-eight plays and punts.
Goodell and his Gang of 32 owners are apparently concerned enough about the gap in stadium and home experiences to do something about it. The RedZone channel will be available in all NFL stadiums this year, and many of the stadiums have upgraded their video boards to HD picture quality.
CBS Sports president Sean McManus, for one, has taken note of the changes in new complexes like the ones in Dallas and the Meadowlands, for example, and thinks they've helped to narrow whatever gap exists between the home and stadium experiences.
"I think both experiences are good," McManus said on a Wednesday conference call. "I don't subscribe to the theory that the experience at home is far, far superior. I think it's a very different experience. I think people will continue to go to NFL football games to follow their team."
Perhaps, but will they go in enough numbers to ensure that games won't be blacked out in cities like Jacksonville or Kansas City or Tampa Bay, not to mention Detroit or Oakland?
Maybe not, but even so, it's apparently not a great enough concern for Goodell. The commissioner told ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" Wednesday that he is aware of the economic downturn that has impacted the ability of many to enjoy the NFL in person.
It's why he stressed to the Gang of 32 the importance of "(improving) the quality of what we're doing and create that value for our fans." That, Goodell says, includes "how you price the tickets," to improving the buildings themselves, "to providing a safe and entertaining experience for the family when they do go."
Nowhere in that list do you see requiring teams like the aforementioned Lions, Raiders and Bills to field a representative and quality product, but that's another story for another writer.
You also don't see anything in there about altering the blackout policy, which dates back to 1973. Is there anything that happens in today's NFL that is a continuation of the way things were done 37 years ago? In that time, defenses have been neutered, overtime has been brought in for the regular season and the goalposts have been relocated.
Heck, the league even moved the umpire from his longtime perch behind the defensive line to behind the offense, but it can't consider giving the fans a break?
Goodell rightly points out that the NFL is the only league that puts all its games on free television in home markets. But it is also the only league that ties a fan's ability to see a game on his couch to whether a seat in a stadium he probably can't afford is filled.
If you look around, every other major league makes virtually every one of its games available to a home audience for nothing more than the price of cable or satellite, which, by the way, the NFL gets a healthy cut of through its own NFL Network, ESPN and its deal with Direct TV, in addition to the billions it shakes down from CBS, FOX and NBC.
With the potential of a labor shutdown on the horizon, the NFL could do a lot to engender goodwill with the masses by taking down the blackout rule for a while, if not for good.
Come on, Roger. Even King George III was occasionally nice to his subjects.