It is easy to feel sorry for hockey fans in this country. As soccer begins to make strides in the U.S., it seems but a matter of time before hockey tumbles from the collective consciousness of its citizens to the fifth most popular sport in the nation.
Anyone attending a college or professional hockey game will attest to how poorly the sport still translates to television. It is an exciting game, especially when viewed from just a handful of seats off of the ice.
While there seems to be numerous "hardcore" hockey fans interspersed throughout the United States, there are not many casual hockey fans in this country. Therein lies the greatest issue with the sport: for some reason it does not capture the fancy of the casual fan.
The National Football League lies in stark contrast to hockey. The NFL has an abundance of casual fans that often know very little in regards to the game, and are frequently hard pressed to recite anything insightful regarding their individual team.
As in hockey, there are fanatics that can relay countless relevant statistics (some of them are German), die hard enthusiast that have lived and died with each of their team's triumphs and train wrecks, and talented admirers that can turn a phrase in composing odes exalting all that relates to the team with which they have forged a lifelong emotional bond (as in the front page writers of this blog). But unlike hockey there are hoards of NFL fans that believe the "Ice Bowl" is only found at parties by the cups and drinks.
The latter group of fans is what keeps the sport prospering. Their lust for football waxes and wanes as the tides on the shore, and is as shallow as a puddle formed in a spring storm. The roughly $10 billion in revenue generated by the league, however, is thanks in great part to the overwhelming swarm of casual fans choosing to align themselves to their favorite team.
While the fair weather fan may have a myriad of reasons for spending their money on their team, the fact remains that the aficionados devoted to understanding and exploring the intricacies of the sport are far outnumbered. Building a luxurious stadium will not bring more die hard fans to the games, but it will attract the fringe fans that can be lured by the spectacle of the event.
Successful businessmen target their goods or services to the largest market that can afford them. The greater the gross disposable income of the target market, the larger the expected financial windfall.
Despite winning roughly half of their games and but one playoff game over the last 17 years, the Cowboys are the most profitable franchise in the NFL. Financial success is obviously not strongly linked to victories on the playing field.
To the ardent fanatic, this almost seems incongruous. The emotional turmoil caused by the cyclical wins and losses eats away at the hope each diehard fan has that the team can overcome its malaise with each passing season.
A fan in passing, however, suffers minimal emotional toll, and akin to a puppy, anticipates the coming season as "The season" where their team will either dominate throughout the 16 games, or catch fire at the right time to hoist the Lombardi trophy in early February. As discussed, this peripheral fan base is largely responsible for paying the NFL's enormous bill.
As an owner of an NFL franchise, it would be wise to provide enough hope to maintain the optimism of the casual fan. Driven by nothing more than hope for success, those fans will spend money in the stadium and pro shops as if entering a casino. Maintaining an illusion of progress serves to increase the spending frenzy.
While there is little doubt that Jerry Jones wants to win, there are questions regarding the sacrifices the man is willing to make. Will Jerry the GM make decisions that will cost Jerry the Owner money in the short term?
Examine the impending decision regarding DeMarcus Ware. Ware will count very close to $16 million against the 2014 salary cap. If he is released, almost half of his hit on the salary cap (roughly $7.4 million) will be eliminated. While over $8.5 million in dead money will remain, it can be spread over two years, or absorbed completely in 2014.
As Broaddus astutely mentioned on one of his radio programs last week, the "stinger" that has limited Ware over the last several seasons is not a condition that will resolve while DeMarcus is playing in the NFL. His injury is actually a nerve traction injury in which the plexus of nerves located around the shoulder is stretched and damaged. The resultant weakness produced in his arm is similar to that experienced by Tony Romo in his leg (that forced him to miss the final game) after the Redskins game in week 16.
Unlike the pressure on the nerve root in the lumbar spine produced by a damaged intervertebral disc as experienced by Tony, the nerve traction injury DeMarcus has suffered does not have a surgical solution that boasts a high rate of success. Therefore, from a medical perspective, the nerve traction injury sustained by DeMarcus could easily remain an issue for the remainder of his illustrious career and probably affect him in his life after football, although not likely to the degree that it is currently limiting his function.
In other words, there is significant reason to believe that DeMarcus Ware will never approach the astronomical sack numbers he once posted regularly. Injuries to other regions only serve to add credence to the dire medical outlook.
As a GM maximizing value on a roster that is faced with limited resources (e.g., the salary cap), two options exist:
1. Release or trade DeMarcus Ware in 2014.
2. Trade DeMarcus Ware in 2015.
The first option will immediately provide relief from the salary cap, but will leave the team without a proven, albeit limited pass rusher heading into the 2014 season. Trading Ware at this point would be placing him on the market when his value is at its lowest.
The second option would involve taking a $16 million cap hit in hopes that Ware could return to a modest level of production in line with double digit sacks. While still overpaid in regards to his output, Demarcus' value would likely increase and provide the Cowboys' with greater options. While admittedly a gamble, the move could earn a valuable draft prize for the former All-Pro. In addition, a 10+ sack season would likely lead the Cowboys defensive players in 2014 and provide the impetus needed to make the playoffs.
The resultant prolonged waste of funds from restructuring Ware's contract would insure that Romo would retire with all of the Cowboys' passing records and no post season success. In order to obtain good value from a player with limiting talents, a worthwhile cut in pay would have to exceed the $7.4 million saved by his release. It is highly doubtful that DeMarcus would agree to such a financial set back.
Of course, releasing a player of Ware's status would impact the perception of the paying public. Releasing a player that is associated with the Cowboys and certain to be a Hall of Famer is not only unpopular, but would make selling hope a much more difficult proposition.
As GM, the decision to be made with DeMarcus is clear. The dilemma faced by the owner is convoluted. Releasing Ware could cost millions in revenue if the casual fans see this as a move eliminating the Cowboys from serious contention. Permitting DeMarcus to stay is the safer business move, but not necessarily conducive to winning in the long term: after all the $7.4 million saved in 2014 and near $17 million not obligated to Ware in 2015 would go a long way to building the depth necessary on a Dallas Cowboys team perpetually susceptible to injury.
Would winning offset the potential millions lost by releasing Ware? If profits are relatively unaffected by winning and losing, as has been demonstrated to wit, then it is doubtful.
Hope and apparent progress may have a greater impact on the bottom line of the Cowboys. If that is the case, the Owner will overrule the GM.
This battle the GM/Owner of the Cowboys is having will have a profound effect on the Cowboys organization and demonstrate whether Jerry the GM or Jerry the Owner is in command of this football team. This is just one of the high profile decisions the GM and the Owner must capably settle. Many other difficult decisions pitting the needs of the Owner against the necessities of the GM will be required to convert this team into a legitimate contender.
A quick note:
That you are reading this on a blog exclusively dedicated to the Dallas Cowboys during the off season virtually excludes you from being a casual fan.