Benner/Sports and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Colts and Opinion

BENNER: An open letter to Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay

September 29, 2012

Dear Jim:

First of all, thanks. Thanks for doing the right thing which, I assume, was to join your colleagues in demanding that the commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, do the right thing.

And that was to get the first-string NFL officials back on the field.

Because this wasn’t just an abomination at the end of the “Monday Night Football” game between Green Bay and Seattle.

It was a debacle from the get-go.

And why it wasn’t resolved long before now—indeed, long before the start of the season—is beyond me.

I saw your tweets, of course, where you emphasized that this was more than a money issue, that it was also a quality-control issue.

Fair enough. But in the meantime, you and your fellow owners were complicit as Goodell and his minions made a mockery of the game.

I write this not as a guy with a forum in the otherwise distinguished pages of the Indianapolis Business Journal, though, obviously, I do have that.

I write this as a ticket-buying fan.

As a purchaser of four season tickets in the upper reaches of Lucas Oil Stadium, my wife and I spend—counting tickets and concessions—more than three grand annually for your product.

I understand that’s pocket change for the folks sitting in the suites and club seats, and barely a drop in the bucket of the ocean of revenue for the NFL in general and the Indianapolis Colts in particular.

But it’s what we can afford, and our cheap seats don’t seem cheap when we write the check.

In any case, I felt as if I was not just getting shortchanged, but ripped off.

It had nothing to do with the Colts’ 1-2 record going into the bye week, or the overhaul of the team, or last year’s 2-14 debacle, or the decision to let Peyton Manning take his most valuable player talents elsewhere.

It had everything to do with how the paying customers were so casually disregarded.

True, some of the fault is ours. We’re enablers. Lemmings. As this bad joke played out, we still flocked into the stadiums and sent the TV ratings soaring.

Still, there’s an old saying from politics: Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The NFL, in the realm of American sport, wields absolute power, derived from its unchallenged position as the country’s most popular game. The league and you, the owners, can force a top-down, take-it-or-leave-it dictate on the populace.

So now the NFL crowds the schedule with weekly Thursday night games even though it forces players to perform in a diminished state due to a lack of recovery and preparation time. The NFL continues to demand full freight for meaningless preseason games in which first-line players make only a token appearance, if that. The NFL talks about exporting more of its regular-season product to London and Europe and, hey, watch it on TV if you don’t like it.

But the most egregious abuse of the NFL’s absolute power is when it affects the integrity of the game. That’s what happened during these first three weeks of the season.

Sure, Jim, mistakes happen. The human element of officiating means perfection is only a quest, never the result. As the regular refs return, they are sure to mess up, too. Even my buddy Mark Baltz.

But these replacements refs were in way over their heads. They didn’t know the NFL rules, they were disrespected by the players and coaches, and they had no credibility among the vast majority of fans. Games turned into street fights, with cheap, illegal shots being taken on nearly every play. Your assets, players, were at even greater risk of injury.

The larger issue here, Jim, is the assumption that the consumers will always be there, no matter what. And maybe they will be. If so, that’s on us. After all, it’s our money, and we choose how to spend it.

Understand, Jim, I believe you’re among the best of owners, one who sees himself as the keeper of a treasured public trust. I believe you truly value the fans, both those who can afford to come to the games—including those of us in the “cheap“ seats—and those who follow from home on television.

I know you love the game and the league, Jim. So, again, thanks for the ultimate resolution. But shame on everyone involved that it dragged out as long as it did.

Sincerely,

Bill

Section 546•

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Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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