Has NFL football become too big?

Some of the seats left unfilled Sunday because the NFL got greedy. (Getty Images)

In America, they love to do things big. In Texas, that’s taken to a whole new level. So it’s only fitting that in light of the extra large, extra expensive, extra controversial Super Bowl held last week in Dallas, people are starting to ask if the hype surrounding the game has become too big for the game itself.

“Buried somewhere in all of the superbull, the booze, bad concerts and relentless commercial squeeze, there was a good football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers,” wrote Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post in a must-read column this morning. “But to be honest, it was an ancillary event. The NFL may want to rethink that strategy. It may also want to rethink its tendency to look like the Marie Antoinette of the sports world.”

Has the league sold out to make Super Bowl week appeal to non-football fans? The philosophy behind such a strategy, of course, would be to pull them in with the glitz and glamour and then secure them for life with a thrilling football game. And while I’m sure that works to some degree, is the league exploiting its own fans in the process?

It’s just another way in which the NFL is transparently bottom line, while somehow trying to convince its followers that everything’s done in the best interest of the fan. Commissioner Roger Goodell talks about the 18-game season as a service to the fans, but they don’t want it. He talks about the need for new stadiums for the growth of the game, but isn’t the league quite financially endowed right now, and won’t new stadiums just continue to empty the pockets of fans in new parts of the country?

If you’re a football fan, aren’t you going to watch the championship game regardless of the pageantry? I realize that the mantra in U.S. professional sports is to go big or go home, but shouldn’t there be a ceiling? (There was a ceiling at Cowboys Stadium Sunday, but that didn’t stop the league from charging taxpayers $450,000 to fly four Navy F-18s over the closed roof.)

Fans have begun to realize that the push for an extended regular season is an obvious cash grab, but they’ve been slower to see that the week of the Super Bowl — and the game itself to a degree — falls under the same category. It’s financially irresponsible. It’s dangerous.

“A tipping point was reached with this Super Bowl, for me,” wrote Jenkins, whose father Dan was honoured in Dallas as part of the Super Bowl Week festivities. “It was the screwed-over anger of those 1,250 people without seats that did it. Those travel-weary, cash-whipped fans paid small fortunes to go to the game, only to discover their stubs were no good, because fire marshals declared some sections unsafe. All of a sudden the whole thing seemed offensive. It was just too much.”

Goodell talked in his press conference Friday about how crucial to growth new stadiums are. North Texas got this game because of the new Cowboys Stadium — a project that was started in 2006. The league hasn’t broken ground on a single new stadium since that year, and that seems to have Goodell worried.

That’s a big problem. The league sees stadiums as good investments even though they currently cost over a billion dollars to build and are usually worth less than half of that by the time they are left for dead by anxious owners. Bad investment. But not for the National Football League, not at all. That’s because we pay for the vast majority of these billion-dollars wannabe-wonders-of-the-world. It’s a great investment for owners and teams and a horrible one for cities and taxpayers, who have their arms twisted by the threat that they’ll lose their home team if they don’t pay up.

“At its best the NFL is a deeply embedded piece of American culture, with an indissoluble bond with fans,” wrote Jenkins. “But it’s grown far removed from the grass-roots recreation it started as, the competitive emblem of mill towns, and their enormous civic resilience. As fans, we share blame for being willing to pay anything for it. We’ve allowed league owners to cash in on American pride, and hunger for entertainment. We should insist they share American economic problems.”