MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 16: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell leaves court-ordered mediation at the U.S. Courthouse on May 16, 2011 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mediation was ordered after a hearing on an antitrust lawsuit filed by NFL players against the NFL owners that followed a breakdown of labor talks between the two in March. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Laughter is the best medicine, don't you know?
Lets face it: as a collective whole, fans are losing their voice when it comes to the actual business issues of sports. While lockouts have conclusively been proven to show short-term damage, sports interest is fairly elastic. The MLB Strike that left 1994 without a World Series embittered tons of fans, but after about five years or so, attendance was equal or higher to where it had been in the past. Same story with the NBA Lockout in 1998.
More importantly, as time has passed, actual attendance of sporting events has mattered less and less. Between ever-increasing television contracts, the proliferation of new stadiums with luxury suites, more complex and varied advertising deals, and the expanding reach of the internet, fans have less to do with the game's money than ever before.
There's a concept I've come across in my non-sports reading that is known as Pareto's principle, and what it essentially boils down to is that you can get 80% of your results from 20% of your effort. Translated into business, the 80% is "money" and the 20% are "customers." Fans are now on the wrong side of that principle. While passionate sports fans mock bandwagoners and hate the stale air that has been inserted into every arena as their voice is lost, they don't contribute enough money to the table to have a fair say at the professional level anymore. Oh sure, they may get phone calls as part of a flimsy PR game, but that does not mean the opinion of the fans actually matters.
While every bit of actual business in sports is driven by the passion of fans, the collective business entities that subsidize sports have reached the point where they no longer need much help to sustain themselves. It's fun to root for the NFL to sustain business damage due to their ridiculous tactics, but it's also not very realistic at this point. The reason they are playing chicken with the players is because even if they lose half a season and don't walk away with many concessions, they have no reason to play it safe. They mastered the 20-80 principle and will make money whether there are 70,000 fans or 40,000 fans at the games next season.
The only thing that is left to do at this point is to laugh. Laugh hard and long at the lack of shame either side has when it comes to pandering for the fans. Roger Goodell had the gall today to say that the fans are part of the reason for the lockout. No, really. That happened. There's plenty wrong about the actual mathematics of what he said--check Aaron Schatz for that, but my reaction wasn't even based on how wrong the statement was. Instead, the sheer incredulousness of the idea that fans can relate to this just made me chortle. Then, it made me think, "Oh wait, you're being serious. Allow me to laugh even harder."
Whether you support the players or the owners in theory, fans in general have little to gain from this lockout in either direction. I happen to be on the side of the players, because they are a) the actual entertainment product and b) have a completely raw deal compared to their baseball brethren already, before we even see if they have to give anything back in this round of negotiating. Despite that, there are plenty of examples of players saying things just as ridiculous. For instance, Adrian Peterson's comments comparing playing football in this system to slavery.
Average fans, regardless of the level of their passion, no longer have much of a say in how the game operates now that they aren't part of the economic equation. But we do have one outlet left: the narrative. If we're all going to be dragged through three or four more months of labor ridiculousness by a bunch of greedy millionaires and billionaires, then we must stop and take names. Of those who say things that make them sound like they're from planet Zorfnon 18, of those who try to utilize fans as a PR tactic, and of those who continuously distort honesty for their own personal good rather than use their position for the greater good of their sport.
Then, we must laugh. A lot.
Because it's really all true fans have left.