Troubles in the NFL

TRAVERSE CITY — The NFL is reportedly having trouble getting enough butts in the seats. Some photos of the stands look like shots of the National Mall during Trump’s inauguration — a lot of empty real estate.

The National Anthem protest is one obvious reason why, which is puzzling to me. If I had tickets, I’d still go. If I wanted to buy tickets, I’d still buy tickets. I wouldn’t let a protest change my mind unless the protest was about why beer at the stadium is $8. That’s a protest I could get behind.

Yes, I’m also behind the player’s views on police brutality. I’ve written about it. Like many, I’m appalled that’s it’s seemingly OK in the eyes of the law for police to shoot and kill people — especially black men — with little or no provocation and suffer no consequences. We not only need mass retraining programs for every police department in this country, but new laws — not just departmental procedures — that rewrite the rules of engagement. This “shoot to kill” mentality is obscene.

There. Got that off my chest.

But I’d still go to the games if I wanted to. I’m not a fan of mixing sports or music with politics and issues because sports and music are the very things that help us forget about politics and issues.

To be honest, if I ran a team right now, I’d stop playing the National Anthem altogether. Not because of the protests or the reaction to them, but because: A) It’s an awful song, and B) It’s always poorly performed (they should only have brass bands perform it).

I’m not kidding. There’s no law that says it has to be played before sporting contests. So dump it. And if you think that’s somehow unpatriotic, I submit to you that so is heading to the concession stand for a hot dog or checking your phone for your fantasy football scores. But then you never do those things when the anthem’s played, right? And at home, you stand, sing and take off your hat, right? Riiight.

The anthem protest is only part of the NFL’s problems, though. I think there are other reasons fewer people go to games.

First, the obvious: Going to an NFL game is expensive. Franchises will tell you they have tickets as low as $15, but those are for the nosebleed seats. I’m not poor, but pro sports priced me out years ago. Unless I want to go alone, I’m looking at anywhere from $200 to $500 for two to five tickets, parking, concessions etc., which is just not worth it for three hours of entertainment. Maybe if they offered free shoulder massages.

Two, traffic. A lot of stadiums these days are located downtown, and if there’s one thing that America is lousy at, it’s designing urban traffic systems. And if there’s anything that NFL franchises are worse at than the United States is at designing urban traffic systems, it’s figuring out where to park people. It’s like they’re surprised people drove.

Three, too many damned penalties. Everything’s a penalty these days, which is why there’s no longer a flow to games. Now that I’ve mentioned it, you’ll notice it. Sorry.

Four, TV timeouts. When you watch a game in person, play suddenly stops 10 or so times a game with no explanation — right in the middle of dramatic drives — and the players mill around on the field drinking water and chatting like they’re at a social club. That’s a TV timeout. I hate them. And if I hate them, other fans hate them, too.

Five, watching games on TV is simply a better experience. You get replays, commentary, you don’t notice the TV timeouts as much, and, best of all, you have your own refrigerator.

I just looked. There are no $8 beers in there.

— — —

Andrew Heller, an award-winning newspaper columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Follow him at and on Facebook and Twitter. Write to him via email at