Monday, June 11, 2012

The Power Wins!*

Ah, the asterisk.

One little symbol that says, yes, what you say is technically correct, but it's not the whole story, so stop celebrating, Barry.

The Power's losing streak came to an end this weekend with a "victory" (Quotes - the bitchy cousin of the asterisk) over the Cleveland Gladiators. Rumors were true, and Cleveland's players stayed home Friday night and became the first team in the AFL to ever forfeit a game.

The official scoreboard says that the Power won 2-0, which is perfect, because the whole situation was just like dropping one big deuce on the league, all around. Since there is no play for me to recap, I will instead touch base on all the reasons why the player's union's decision to "select" the Gladiators for a one game strike were stupid, childish, selfish and ultimately futile.

(Also, they smell bad and I think they suck.)

In week one, the union decided that they were going to make a stand and have all of the teams strike. This would send a message to everyone that they needed to be heard and get better pay and working conditions. A worthy goal, to be sure, but it really wasn't going to be in the cards. They were asking for a substantial bonus for starting QBs and triple their standard salary ($1200 instead of $400.)

As we all know, it didn't work out as planned. Ownership caught wind of it, the Preds and Power fired everybody, replacements came in and most players slunk back with their tails between their legs. The players' union collectively said, "Oh crap! They're taking this seriously! Shit, I thought that striking was easy and there were no consequences. Boy is my face red!" With that, they canceled the rest of the strike, everyone else played and Pittsburgh and Orlando were left holding the bag with their seasons ruined before they started. Everyone else on and off the field went back to glaring at each other over the dinner table and pretending nothing was wrong.

Flash forward to this week. Once again, the union had their dander up and broadcast loud and clear that they were going to strike again. As they'd already proven that they can totally follow through on these things, as well as learning that it's always a good idea to give a much more powerful opponent the heads up before you punch them, it must have seemed like a great idea.

The rumors swirled around for about three weeks that it was coming, and the scuttlebutt really seemed to point towards the Power being involved in one of those striking games (but not be active participants), mainly because they were - once again - in the Friday night national spotlight. In fact, the rumors said that there would be a work-stoppage in all three games. Sure enough, the league decided to bump the Power/Glads game for the Philly/Mustangs game, officially because that was going to be the better game (it was really good.) Unofficially, it was probably so that the most likely team to strike wouldn't embarrass them on the NFL Network again. Well, the Network had other ideas, because they basically told the AFL to take a hike until they manage to get their house in order. The Game of the Week fills a slot on a slow night in the off season for them - but they aren't attached enough to it to risk showing an empty field for 3 hours.

At this point, the union had two options: Call off the strike because no one was going to see it or make a stand and have all three strikes happen to show the league that they were serious.

They came up with a third option, which was to be completely frickin' stupid and have only the Gladiators strike.

There are just so many reasons why this was all dumb and counter-productive that I hardly know where to start. The Gladiators didn't officially strike until after 6 p.m. Friday, which was well after it was already known that the league bumped them from the national spotlight game. If the union was able to put the brakes on any work-stoppage out in Milwaukee in that time, it was more than enough time to call it off in Cleveland as well - but they didn't. There was still enough time after it was announced that no one was getting aired nationally to stop it, and they didn't. At this point, it should have been obvious it wasn't going to effect anything. No local TV crews were going to be in Cleveland, because they'd planned on being exclusive on the NFL Network. With one team in third place in a weak division on a two-game slide, and the other team being from a town that most people still think that they were disbanded after the strike in week one, who did they think would notice? Without being broadcast nationally where the media has to take notice, it was an empty gesture, unless it was part of something league-wide.

Robert Redd of the Gladiators was quoted as saying "I sure hope this was worth it...I hope I'm wrong, but I wonder if a one-team strike can make that much of a difference...I believe we stood up for what is right, but I don't believe the strategy behind it was the best. What will really tick me off is if nothing comes of it, because it will prove a one-team strike does nothing."

Word, Redd.

The union compounded its stupidity with who they chose. Fine - they knew it was a lost cause and they wanted a symbolic team to still strike. I don't agree, but I can still dig it. But if they were going to do that, why not pick the Preds? Sure, they were in the late game and it also might just come across as one team that likes to strike - but we're talking about a union that doesn't seem much for the long view. The Preds are a team with nothing to lose in the season, and fans that will still come back next year. The Gladiators are a team in the hunt for a wildcard. Luckily for them, the Mustangs also lost Friday night, because otherwise, they'd be within a game of Cleveland - but because they "lost" as well, the Mustangs are only 2 games back now instead of possibly three. This could have playoff implications, and that's just not fair to anyone.

Next up are the fans. If you've tuned into any of the national broadcasts this season, you've heard commissioner Jerry Kurz go on and on about how this is "the year of the fan." Now, I'm not going to get into all of the reasons they've dropped the ball on that tagline, but I am going to touch on why the union really just wiped their ass with that sentiment this week. Week one was bad enough in that it destroyed two teams for the season as well as having that mess exposed to a bunch of casual fans - many of whom probably never tuned in again. This week did it all again, but without the national stage, it came across in a much more intimate way that - to me, at least - felt much more like a personal slap in the face to those of us that support the league.

We were denied the one game of the week that we know we won't have to stream online to see, that will be in high definition, full color, well-commentated glory. Those of us that follow Pittsburgh or Cleveland were denied a game for our team, period. Fans that decided to go down to Cleveland's arena and check out a game left thinking it was a waste of their time. Season ticket holders - the people a team relies on to make their bottom line - lost out on a chunk of what they paid for. A number of Pittsburghers even shelled out for a ticket and a Power-arranged bus trip out to Cleveland to see it in person. I don't know how refunds work for any of these things, but at best, there's a lot of people - fans - who are going to be a lot less supportive now, and at worst, there are bunch of people who are pissed off because it also cost them money.

Furthermore, the arena staff was all still there and had to be paid. The venue can't be happy about that, and the union is stupid if they think other venues aren't watching as well. With attendance being generally down this year, every seat counts. If people aren't coming and there is the risk of having to pay their staff when they aren't making any revenue, arenas aren't going to want to host teams - at least not without charging them a lot more to do so. Finally, the NFL Network - our one conduit to the "outside world" - is essentially another "venue" that has to look at the bottom line. After two lost games this season for them, I wonder if they'll be back next year.

So, to recap, the union's decisions to strike this year have:
  • Sidelined two teams
  • Possibly effected the playoff prospects of a third
  • Garnered nothing but bad press for the league amongst fans and mockery/scorn from anyone else who's even noticed
  • Pissed off and inconvenienced the fans that are actually paying for games
  • Likely made one of our biggest public supporters question their partnership
So, that must mean that they're playing for big stakes, right? From everything I have read, it's down to a matter of $100 per player, per game. The Union wants $600 a game, the league is offering $500. That's it. They've reached agreements on the QB bonus and such - it's just the base salary.

The bottom line is that the union has done far more harm than good this season. Sure, the league bears a chunk of the responsibility - if they really wanted to protect their business model, they might consider the extra hundred, or at least meet them half-way at $550 just to end this - but it's mainly on the union. They haven't committed to any of their threats and ended up just looking foolish. It's like when you don't take your full course of antibiotics - in the end, you haven't gotten better, you've just made sure the illness became resistant to the cure.

Casual fans disappeared week one when they all heard the team got fired at Olive Garden. Fan-fans have been running for the exit. Die-hards are really questioning their commitment. Last week, in a move that either speaks of desperation, cluelessness or flat-out balls, the Power sent Keller and I our season ticket renewal forms.

If the AFL isn't careful, this whole $500/$600 a game issue might be small potatoes next to not having a paying customer at all.

Elsewhere in the League

  • It's really a shame that Philly and the Mustangs weren't on the NFL Network. It was a solid game, and both teams fought hard for it. However, in the end, it was just one more game this season where the Mustangs lost by a touchdown in the last seconds of the game. With Cleveland forfeiting, they had a chance to tighten the race up in our division for second place, but they lost another heart-breaker.
  • Orlando didn't forfeit, but they might as well have. San Jose beat them 51-34 in this late-nighter, and the Preds fall to 1-11 on the season
  • I shoulda listened to that voice in my head that said the Force was going to pull it off, 'cause they did. There were some fireworks in the first half when both teams did what they do - Jax picked one in the end zone and ran it all the way back on one drive, and on another, Georgia pulled off one of their patented 4-and-out defensive stands on the 1/2 yard line. Second half, they pulled out ahead and finished it 56-39.
  • The other game I was wrong about was the Voodoo/Talons. The Voodoo really were their own worst enemy, playing some sloppy football most of the game, but they held in there until the end. Unfortunately, they left Aaron Garcia with 57 seconds on the clock, down by 1 point. The Talons drove down, scored and went for two, putting this game in a touchdown-to-tie situation, that New Orleans was not able to pull off. Their final play of the game was stopped on the 1 yard line.
  • The less said about the Chicago/Utah game, the better for everyone. Chicago just got so utterly destroyed that I think the Gladiators played a better game Friday night. They didn't even get on to the board until the second quarter, and they couldn't do anything to stop Tommy Grady. In the end, it was 68-28. To add salt to the wound, both teams are in the hunt for what will likely be the last wildcard, and now Utah has the tie-breaker.
  • Spokane throttled KC. No real surprise there.
  • In the final game of the week, the Rattlers showed the Barnstormers what's up in a decisive match in the Snakepit. Although the score finished at only 55-48, the result was never in question. They kept the pressure on Ratterink the whole game and kept scoring on offense.

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