Despite new deal, NFL fans still stuck with lousy preseason games 

The new NFL labor deal will include one provision that will be better for fans, but retain another practice that is the biggest rip-off in sports.

The positive move is dropping the plan to go to an 18-game regular-season schedule. This was a terrible idea, spawned by a desire to increase already fat TV deals. Pro football already is racked by injuries, and adding two regular-season games would have increased the injury rate.

When star players are injured, fans are getting a product whose quality has been reduced.

The Green Bay Packers won the most recent Super Bowl, but check out how they did in the games quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed because of concussions.

Having an extra two games would have required another bye week. That would have meant a regular season that stretched well into January and a Super Bowl in the last week of February. Good grief.

The bad news is that the new deal still includes four exhibition games for which season ticket-holders will be charged full price.

This is pathetic. These “games” are just glorified scrimmages. The only meaningful game is the third one, when coaches play their starters for about two-thirds of the time. Coaches play their starters for no more than 1-2 series in the fourth game and often sit their starting quarterbacks for the entire game, so they don’t risk injuries.

No other sport foists this on paying fans. Baseball teams spend their spring training in other areas; if fans choose to go to those areas and watch games, that’s an individual decision.

When I started covering pro football in 1967 with the Raiders, AFL teams played exhibition games on the road because their fans wouldn’t waste their money on meaningless games. The Raiders even played one game in North Platte, Neb., a town that rolls up its sidewalks at 7 p.m.

The one bright spot about these games is that they forced the owners to get serious about their negotiations.

All along, these negotiations have been about leverage. The owners knew they had it early because they had much more money behind them.

But at this point, when further delay would have meant cancelling exhibition games, the leverage shifted to the players. Suddenly, the owners were eager to make a deal, so eager that they prematurely signed an agreement Thursday before players had even had a chance to see it.

Players, though, had already signed off on the distribution of money, which was always the big issue, as it is in any labor negotiation.

The new agreement seems to be a good one, including more health protection for players after their careers are over. It has much-needed restrictions on rookie salaries, so more money can go to veterans who have proved themselves. The salaries being paid to first-round draft choices were becoming more and more ridiculous. We had a classic example in the Bay Area: JaMarcus Russell.

Though only players and owners were directly concerned, there are many others who owe their livelihoods to football — seasonal workers supplying food and services at the games. So it’s good news for everybody that the games will resume.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on Email him at

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Glenn Dickey

Glenn Dickey

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