Pittsburgh and Green Bay Thrive Despite Small Market Status
NFL Spreads Hope to All
By: Patrick Snow | 2/4/11, 1:06 AM EST
The Packers. The Steelers. Cheeseheads vs. Terrible Towels. Classic franchises. National fan bases. Generations of tradition.
These two Super Bowl combatants conjure up timeless NFL memories, from Lombardi’s unbeatable gang in the ‘60s to Chuck Noll’s Steel Curtain to Brett Favre reviving the Pack to Dick LeBeau’s new defensive force winning it all over the past decade. Pittsburgh is synonymous with Hall of Fame names like Franco Harris, “Mean Joe” Greene, Jack Lambert or Mel Blount, and we have seen new champions like Hines Ward, James Farrior and Troy Polamalu arise over the last few seasons.
The same greatness holds true in Green Bay with Hall of Fame favorites like Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke, Forrest Gregg or Herb Adderley. We have all seen highlights of the “Ice Bowl” where quarterback Bart Starr sneaks in for the game winner behind the block of Jerry Kramer, and more recently a new Lambeau lore was created by greats like Favre and Reggie White.
Another factor these two franchises with ravenous fan bases share? They are both in smaller media markets. That fact has been critical to the NFL’s ascent into a ratings and popularity juggernaut. It really doesn’t matter where you are from the in NFL; just how you are managed and how you perform. In other sports, one of two things is usually happening with small market clubs. They are either a punch line because of constant failure, or they have a couple of successful seasons surrounded by many of below mediocrity. However in the NFL, a franchise in Pittsburgh or Wisconsin can have success over time because of good management and a fair playing field.
Most experts and fans see this Super Bowl as a classic matchup, one that might break ratings records. So with all the positive vibes both currently and historically with the league, the question has to be asked: why in #$#@% are we facing with a potential work stoppage? We’ll save the “millionaires vs. larger millionaires” conversation for another day, but it would be sad mistake to miss any NFL work time with the current prosperity. This matchup should show both the players and owners how effective the NFL system is when compared with those in other sports.
Can you imagine the general sports fan’s reaction to a World Series between the Pirates and Mariners? A hardcore baseball fan would probably be intrigued by their individual stories and the fact it was a championship, but the general public (that now follows the NFL religiously) would wonder “Who are these guys?” The MLB system of non-balanced television revenue and no salary cap has fostered an environment of little or no hope in many small and mid-markets. Conversely, the Pittsburgh-Seattle Super Bowl matchup a few years ago was highly anticipated. Even though the game turned out to be a dud, there was no less buildup and fandom for the Holmgren vs. Cowher battle.
A mammoth decision for the National Football League was made in the 1960s when Commissioner Pete Rozelle presided over splitting the television revenues of his sport equally. But perhaps the most important figure in allowing Rozelle lead the league in that critical direction was New York Giants owner Wellington Mara. His class and vision - in understanding and accepting that big markets like his needed to evenly share with the smaller markets – were a driving force in setting up the NFL for amazing growth. His non-Steinbrenner attitude is something that large market football owners always need to remember and big city baseball owners need to learn.
I really don’t mean to pick on baseball, but ripping the yearly hope and national identity out of many of the smaller market clubs has damaged the game. It actually pains me to read that the Pro Bowl – yes, that meaningless exhibition that is nothing like real football – draws as many viewers as a World Series game. The NFL must learn from the strength of the current system and not ruin years of prosperity in the upcoming offseason. Perhaps the only way to damage the league’s unparalleled success is to become overly arrogant and squabble over billions of dollars – something that does not seem very Green Bay or Pittsburgh-like.
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