Tuesday, 06 August 2019 08:26

Saints,Thomas-like deals take NFL to "brinks" on salaries, ticket prices

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Last week, a reporter for a local television station called, asking my reaction to the Saints’ $100 million, five-year extension for WR Michael Thomas. Of course, he didn’t get me the first time he called -  I was on the golf course and the phone was muffled -  so he left a message. That gave me some time to think about it, so after I finished playing I went home to prepare before I called him back. 

 I expected the questions to focus on the obvious, such as “Is Thomas worth the money?” or “How will another big contract affect the salary cap?” or “Will this contract prevent the Saints from adding quality depth?” Reprising the advice my old boss Jim Finks once gave me to “always practice your ad-libs” before going into an interview, I had my answers ready. But the reporter did not ask me anything about the team, the structure of the contract or the salary cap. He asked me what I thought the fan reaction would be to the biggest contract ever given to a wide receiver in the NFL. 

I responded that the fans should be ecstatic, because the Saints’ brass made a decision on Thomas’ value which is obviously considerable. I further said that most fans care far less about what their heroes were making as long as they are on the field trying to win another Super Bowl. That answer was in line with a Twitter poll that had been posted, claiming that 75% of the fans were happy Thomas signed, although 25% had some reservations. And therein lay the rest of the questions. 

His big question was, paraphrased: “Do you think the fans see big contracts as an excuse for the team to raise ticket prices?” I responded that bigger contracts are less a factor for higher ticket prices than the result of the recent explosion in television rights fees and new media such as the NFL Network. That is because the Salary Cap is linked to the major source of revenue, which is the network TV contract. The salary cap has always risen in proportion to the revenue increases from the network TV contract. 

I did some retroactive fact-checking when I got off the interview, and the facts lined up as I thought they would. From sources available on the internet, the salary cap has risen 41% since 2014 while the average NFL ticket price has risen only 18.75% over the same period. Taking it further back, the cap has risen 53% since 2009 while ticket prices have risen 37% and since 2006, the cap has gone up 84.5% while ticket prices have risen 60.7%. But he persisted. 

Do you think the fans are being priced out of the game? I acknowledged that is the situation with the Super Bowl, whose $2,500 ticket price is well beyond most season ticket holders. But I don’t believe any club will alienate its fans with dramatic ticket price increases. (The L.A. Chargers might be the exception with a $177 average ticket price that is at least 50% higher than any other club!) Of course, there are always fans who decide for one reason or another that they can’t or won’t pay higher prices, but there always has been somebody laying in the weeds, waiting to take their tickets. 

I frankly believe that losing turns off fans more than higher prices. In other words, I don’t believe that Saints fans are fazed in the least by the big contracts bestowed upon their heroes. An old NFL adage is that “blue players make blue plays,” with blue usually the color code on the personnel board for a star player. The Saints are smart enough to know that, which is why they will continue to lock up the players they consider the keys to their success.

So what's ahead? I believe that Alvin Kamara, Terron Armstead and Marshon Lattimore will be driving around in Michael Thomas’ Brinks truck in the not too distant future, and Who Dat Nation will be ecstatic!

Jim Miller's latest book, "Integrated: the Lincoln Institute, Basketball and a Vanished Tradition" is now available from the University Press of Kentucky or at Amazon.com.

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