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Updated: February 27th, 2014 12:44pm
P.J.R.: The fans have no power when it comes to the NFL

P.J.R.: The fans have no power when it comes to the NFL

by Patrick Reusse
1500ESPN.com
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It's official. The NFL has become too popular. It has become an all-powerful entity with no accountability to the sporting public.

In all other professional sports in this country, the public can put pressure on a local team by staying away from games. Empty seats are an issue for franchises in baseball, the NBA and the NHL.

The belief here is that the Twins' decision to act quickly this offseason and give a $49 million guarantee to Ricky Nolasco, a competent free-agent starter, had as much to do with a rapid decline in Target Field attendance as a burning desire to be competitive in 2014.

Same with the actions of the Wild and owner Craig Leipold on July 4, 2012.

Leipold is much-involved and an owner who wants to win, but he also was watching the first real decline in interest in Minnesota's second NHL club and increasing numbers of empty seats in the St. Paul arena.

The twin 13-year contracts to free agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise were as much a move to reinvigorate the ticket buyers as to put some pizzazz into a low-octane roster.

The Timberwolves ... well, I can't explain what's been going on there for the past decade, although the decision to hire the esteemed Rick Adelman as coach in September was definitely an attempt to gain some credibility with an apathetic public.

The Vikings don't have to worry about credibility. They can operate in any manner that they choose, and there's not a danged thing the public, or the politicians, can do about it.

They have membership in the NFL, the sports club with all the power -- and if we don't kiss up to them in every way possible, we're in trouble, not the Purple.

I was running this theory past Tom Pelissero, now an NFL columnist for USA Today, in a radio interview the other day. I used the cliché that the NFL had become so popular that it was now "bullet proof.''

We had an immediate laugh at that, considering the case of New England tight end Aaron Hernandez; then again, the reaction to Hernandez situation is exactly what we're talking about here.

Hernandez was with the Patriots from 2010 through 2012, as a productive receiver. He was released before last season for a rather dramatic reason:

The execution-style slaying of an overly talkative acquaintance. Hernandez has been indicted for that one. He's also has been linked to an earlier drive-by shooting in which two men were murdered.

So, the Patriots might have been housing a murderer for three seasons, and what did the spin on this story become with the NFL media and with its masses of their fans?

Not that perhaps they should be embarrassed by having had an alleged murderer in their midst, but as to how soon Rob Gronkowski might come back from injury to help make up for the absence of Hernandez.

The other angle was that it was a good thing that the Patriots had a coach such as Bill Belichick, a quarterback such as Tom Brady, and some other veteran leaders, so that having had the accused murderer wouldn't be a "distraction.''

I'm thinking if a major league baseball team had a guy who wound up in jail as an indicted murderer, there might be a bit more hell to pay in public relations for the league and the team than did the NFL and the Patriots.

A settlement in a class-action concussion lawsuit that's going to reach a billion dollars. A raving spouter of racial taunts deemed to be a leader in the Miami Dolphins' locker room. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf being labeled by a New Jersey judge as having used the tactics of a racketeer in his dealings with real estate partners in New Jersey.

Not a dent in the NFL's popularity - or in Minnesota's willingness to give Wilf and his family everything they want in a new stadium, including the right to fully gouge long-time season ticket-holders for seat licenses.

Example: A friend of mine has had four seats on the 30 for decades. The face value in the last season in the Metrodome was $150 per ticket.

To retain those tickets, he has to come up with $9,500 per seat -- $38,000 - to help Zygi pay his share for the billion-dollar Taj Ma Zygi. And if he pops for the 38 grand, the anticipation is the face value of those tickets in the new stadium will be $400.

Meaning: If he agrees to pay the 38 grand, then he will receive a bill for $16,000 for his 2016 tickets, rather than the $6,000 in 2013.

"I think we're going to stay home and watch on television,'' he said. "I might even go back to cheering for my dad's team, the Packers.''

That's no problem for the Vikings, of course. Even if they face some recalcitrance for the seat-license gouge, and if they have to sell more single-game seats than anticipated, the TV money is so enormous that Zygi will be minting annual profits of $150 million or more when the stadium opens.

The NFL has no accountability to the fans, and for this reason: Those scores of millions of fans have made the NFL so popular that it is bullet proof, even against real bullets.

--PATRICK JAMES REUSSE.

Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He co-hosts SportsTalk from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and hosts The Ride with Reusse from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. He also co-hosts "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Patrick | @1500ESPN_reusse | The Ride with Reusse
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