The Lords of the National Football League have decided one fan base, and possibly two, that care about their pro football teams should lose them in favor of a market that does not.
The reason, we will be told, is the venues the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders play in are no longer suited for pro football, the fans and communities that supported these franchises and made their owners rich be damned.
But after the Pittsburgh Steelers’ violent 18-16 AFC wild-card game victory against the Cincinnati Bengals Saturday night, perhaps the Edward Jones Dome, Qualcomm Stadium, and O.co Coliseum aren’t the only venues that should be viewed as obsolete.
Football fans are odd birds. If somebody asked you to pay more than $100 dollars for the “privilege” to sit in the cold rain for hours among 63,257 angry people and on top of that pay obscenely inflated prices for concessions and parking, you’d ask if their next proposition was for the sale of magic beans.
But throw “supporting your football team” into the equation, and we can’t wait to take out our credit cards for this fleecing!
I know. I’ve had Pittsburgh Steelers season tickets for 20 years.
As such, I can make these legitimate requests. First, the franchise of my choice stay in the metropolitan area I desire, and two, that the venue I attend be safe.
And to be safe, I need to be protected from the elements.
Much has been said about the violence both on and off the field at Paul Brown Stadium last Saturday, but doesn’t it stand to reason that after being soaked in a cold rain, both fans and players would become unpleasant?
Now throw in the fact the game lasts three and a half hours because of the excessive penalties and incomplete passes that occur from playing in such an environment and the drama and circumstances of the game. While the violence that occurred, be it Vontaze Burfict’s late hit on Antonio Brown or the six fan arrests and bottles thrown onto the field, should not be condoned, it cannot be unexpected.
And it could have been prevented if Paul Brown Stadium was equipped with stadia technology that has been around since 1961.
That was the year Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena became the first sports venue to be built with a retractable roof.
Now it’s 2016. Why isn’t every stadium built this way?
Yes, some are. But 25 of the current venues used regularly for NFL games have been built in the last 30 years. Of them, only seven were or will be built with roofs, retractable or otherwise, and the Edward Jones Dome could be replaced by an outdoor venue if the Rams somehow moved to the Carson, Calif., site.
Yes, the list will grow to eight once the Vikings move into U.S. Bank Stadium for the 2016 season. Throw the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (built in 1975) and the list increases to nine.
That only means in 2016, more than a half-century after indoor sports venues were created, more than two-thirds of NFL venues ask their fans to sit in and players to play in the elements, be it cold, heat or precipitation.
Somehow, in a world in which a stadium is obsolete because it doesn’t have enough luxury boxes, keeping the vast majority of fans in a comfortable and safe environment is forgotten.
Yes, I understand the romanticism of football being played in the elements. The most famous game in NFL history is probably the “Ice Bowl” because of the minus-15 degree temperature it was played in.
There was also a fan at Lambeau Field that died of exposure that day. We seem to forget that.
Times have changed. The mud-caked uniform is a thing of the past. Just two years ago some critics were lamenting a Super Bowl being played outside in the New York City metropolitan area, fearing the weather would potentially affect the game and the players the way it certainly did in Cincinnati Saturday night. It’s why former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle wanted the Super Bowl played indoors or in warm weather.
Why not every game?
While it’s not practical to, say, construct some sort of climate dome over all existing open-air stadiums immediately, insisting new stadiums be built with retractable roofs is. At the very least, this would mean more comfortable, safer environments for the players and fans alike, not just the elite in luxury boxes.
In return, Personal Seat Licenses and tickets could easily command greater prices, benefiting the ruling class as well.
And the violence in the stands and on the field that occurred in Cincinnati would be significantly decreased.
— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson began contributing to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2000. He has covered the Steelers, Pitt Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)