Back when I was younger (and marginally smarter), I would tell anyone within shouting distance – and, yes, I would shout; not at a Stephen A. Smith screaming level, more of a thunderous, Howard Beale-ian lilt – that the NFL was so good on TV, it could become the first studio sport.
When I said “studio sport,” I did not mean that it literally could be played in a television studio, but that it was so made-for-TV – enhanced particularly by slow-motion replay – that there was no need for fans in the stands; the game would hold up satisfactorily at home for us even if the stadiums were empty.
Uh, I was accidentally ahead of my time.
For many NFL stadiums of late are, well, emptying out.
This entails two realities unfolding across our gridiron-fatigued Sports Nation:
1. Some stadiums are pretty empty from opening kickoff; fans are staying away.
2. Some stadiums become half-empty after halftime, with those who had showed up opting for an early exit.
Alas, this burgeoning attendance slump is an indirect product, in part, of the never-ending rich man’s parlor game of musical stadiums.
In the 19th century, manifest destiny was a widely held belief in the United States that its settlers were destined to expand across North America. In the 21st century, manifest destiny is a widely held belief in the NFL that its owners are destined to build taxpayer-funded stadiums across North America.
This sensibility – an utterly flawed concept – continues to define entire communities.
(Think about this: We don’t give, say, Safeway money to build a supermarket in a poor neighborhood that needs a grocery store, yet we repeatedly give billionaires millions of dollars to build a stadium for their teams.)
But St. Louis would not cave to Stan Kroenke, so his Rams fled to Los Angeles. And San Diego wouldn’t cave to Dean Spanos, so his Chargers also fled to Los Angeles.
Suddenly Los Angeles has two NFL teams, though Couch Slouch sat here in this very column space and told all the world that we in L.A. didn’t even crave one stinkin’ NFL team.
Meanwhile, Oakland would not cave to Mark Davis, so his Raiders – in the process of The Long Goodbye – will flee to Las Vegas in three years.
And let’s not forget the 49ers, where owner Jed York was stadium-frustrated by San Francisco, so he moved the team from the city itself to Santa Clara, 45 minutes away, which would be like the Pope moving Easter Sunday Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica to Applebee’s in Fiumcino.
As a result, there have been a lot of empty seats in places the NFL should not be.
Google “sparse” crowds and you get photos of two things: NFL games in Los Angeles and Roseanne Barr concert dates.
Last week the Redskins-Rams game at the Coliseum drew 56,612 and the Dolphins-Chargers game at StubHub Center drew 25,381. One night earlier, the Texas-USC game at the Coliseum drew 84,714, more than the 81,993 combined that showed up for the Rams and the Chargers.
Frankly, L.A. has greeted the arrival of the Chargers with all the fanfare of the latest port-a-potty on Wilshire Boulevard.
At the 49ers’ season opener, as the game wore on, Levi’s Stadium looked more like Kmart five minutes after closing. The stands were so sparsely filled in the third quarter, I thought the Panthers and the 49ers had been sent home at halftime and an MLS game had replaced them.
The fan downswing is even affecting franchises not on the move – the last couple of seasons, stadiums in Washington, Cleveland, Minnesota, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Cincinnati have hosted crowds well below capacity.
I glanced in on the fourth quarter of the Titans-Jaguars game Week 2; I had a bigger crowd for my second divorce.
From an optics standpoint, the NFL should convince its TV partners to just focus on the field rather than show any crowd shots. This worked for POTUS on Inauguration Day.
Ah, but I’m thrilled to sit at home watching NFL contests that no one is attending; I’m just rooting against the Patriots. For all I care, they could play the games in a TV studio.
Ask The Slouch
Q. When, exactly, did baseball announcers start calling strikeouts “punch outs,” and do you feel there may be societal, political or moral implications in the change? (Joe Hinson; Salisbury, Md.)
A. Strikeouts, punch outs – does it matter? I just want to totally destroy North Korea.
Q. When you were a “true freshman” at the University of Maryland, were you able to get much writing time? (Bob Engelstad; Kensington, Md.)
A. What are you, nuts? I spent half my freshman year looking for a parking space.
Q. Why can’t NBA players play back-to-back games? (Anthony Lane; Houston)
A. Traffic, I’d imagine.
Q. The CBS sitcom “Kevin Can Wait” just killed off one of its main characters. Can’t “First Take” or “Undisputed” do the same? (Dennis Peterson; Tucson, Ariz.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email email@example.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash.
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