Are fans ready to forgive Polian?

January 23, 2010

By the time the next IBJ hits the newsstands we’ll know whether it’s the Colts or The Team the Colts Enabled (the Jets) that will be playing in the Super Bowl. Against that backdrop, I can’t help but reflect on recent IBJ articles (Benner, et al) that touched on the earlier (and now resurrected) Colts-Jets controversy.

Arguably, IBJ is the best publication for reflection on this topic, as the controversy is rooted in business and not sports or “hometown team” loyalty. What I find curious is that not once have I seen a reference to what I feel is the key driver underlying the topic: that the Colts are part of a monopoly operating under government protection (federal anti-trust exemption).

I know about monopolies, as I worked for one (the phone company) in the glory days prior to the government breakup of Ma Bell. It was great fun! The core customer strategy was simple: Take the product we impose on you and pay our high rates—or tell someone who cares and get your phone service from the other (non-existent) phone company.

The Colts find themselves in the same wonderful position with their customers: Take the “no perfect season” product we impose on you and pay our high ticket prices—or tell someone who cares and get your pro football fix from the other (non-existent) pro football team/league.

Bill Polian was unambiguous about his truly arrogant monopolist orientation when he pronounced that having a perfect season was not a priority (translation: a perfect season would not earn Polian or Jim Irsay one red cent, Colts fans be damned!). Surely Polian’s misplaced strategy couldn’t have been driven by his assessment of that strategy maximizing the potential for the Colts organization to profit handsomely from a Super Bowl appearance, could it?

Now we find ourselves with the possibility of Polian’s greed and arrogance coming back to haunt him should The Team the Colts Enabled win. I must admit to being conflicted on the entertainment value flowing from apoplectic fans and media vis-à-vis having the Colts back in the big game.

By late on Jan. 24 we’ll know whether most fans will forgive Polian for good and be back to adoring the Colts or whether we will have been given material to teach our young children: “Don’t cheat, always do your best and never, ever, throw a football game.”

P.S. Despite a sound fundamental product, Ma Bell’s monopoly was broken up. Is it time to eliminate the NFL’s antitrust exemption?


Hal Carter

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