Joe Henderson Columns
NFL continues to take fans for granted
The owners and players of the National Football League probably think they just did you a big favor. Maybe they even expect to hear car horns honking in the street now that they've reached an agreement to save the upcoming season. Don't get me wrong; knowing there will be football this fall is a good thing. Given the cynical way they got there, though, makes me think they owe you more than candy, flowers and a promise never to do it again. They took you for granted. More than likely, they still do.They don't come out and say that, of course. Commissioner Roger Goodell even allowed, "We are sorry for the frustration we put (fans) through for the last six months." He almost sounded sincere. Fans ultimately have all the power, though. Without you, this whole thing kind of falls apart now, doesn't it? So at the risk of being a stick in the mud, I ask this simple question: What's in this for you? If merely being able to spend your money to watch games is good enough for you, then fine — celebrate good times. If you think it really should be more of a partnership though, then you have a right to make them grovel a bit for your support. I think the league needs to spend some quality time making nice to its best customers. Players and owners presumably got most of what they wanted, so how about Goodell throws a bone to the people who make it all work? They're opening some practices at training camp to the public, but they've always done that. If you're a season-ticket holder, I hope they give you extra goodies — maybe a discount on snacks and drinks, like the Lightning will do for their best customers next season. Maybe they could copy the Rays and Lightning and give a couple of free concerts. Stop laughing! Did paying full price for exhibition games come up in negotiations? After forking over hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to build stadiums, will home games still be subject to archaic blackout rules? You didn't have a seat at the table on those issues. The lockout hurt the local team in a lot of ways, but most of it can be overcome. Season-ticket sales, which were going well until owners locked the doors, can pick up again. They lost all the offseason work, but so did everyone else. With a leader like quarterback Josh Freeman, it shouldn't take much time to get up to speed on the field. I will commend the NFL for taking care of this messy business during the offseason. Negotiators sacrificed the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, but left the rest of the schedule untouched. They didn't have total meltdowns like baseball and hockey did, or like the National Basketball Association is about to go through. They don't get too much credit for that, though. Although the outcome was basically what everyone wanted, it was still like watching hot dogs being made. They owe you for that. Players and owners negotiated a salary floor, which means estimates are the Bucs will have to spend at least $30 million more on players this season. Some of that undoubtedly will go toward keeping players like Davin Joseph in the pewter fold, but there should be plenty left over for the anticipated free agent free-for-all that is about to commence. Bringing in a few targeted big-name free agents would be a nice way of showing fans they're willing to go wallet-to-wallet if that's what it takes to win. You don't go through something like this without residual damage, but I think the NFL will move on with only minimal trouble. Players will start reporting for training camp in a few days and the frenzy to sign free agents will soon turn the focus back to the field. That's a good thing. Just don't lose the real lesson of this in whatever emotion you feel now that the lockout has been lifted. The NFL has always assumed you will be there whenever it decided it was ready. Well, the league is ready. Are you?