Action adjusts your dreams to reality
October 7, 2003 Grand Junction Free Press Page 10
(c) Copyright 2003, Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall, All Rights Reserved Grammy's Axioms, Special to the Free Press
By Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall
I had almost forgotten how the excitement of a Broncos game feels. At one time, I was a huge football fan. As I told my neighbor, I was a season ticket holder for many years. My love of football went even further, though.
Remember the football strike back in 1982? I was so darned angry about it, I called my attorney and had him file Articles of Incorporation for an organization I named National Football League Fans' Union (NFLFU).
We were a fan advocacy organization group. I, in other words, started a union. This proves you cannot believe everything you hear about conservatives... they are not necessarily anti-union!
I called a press conference, wrote a press release and got permission from Broncos' owner Jerry Phipps to hold the event on the fifty-yard line of Mile High Stadium. About 75 members of the media were invited... over 50 showed up.
It was a very successful press conference. We got good coverage throughout the country. I still have the clippings from the papers in all of the cities that had a National Football League franchise -- and, many more newspapers around the country. I just have this basic belief: If something is wrong, do something to fix it (or, keep quiet about it).
The players' union and the owners were abusing the fans whose financial support paid their salaries. The first thing we did was announce the NFLFU's request of fans to boycott the NFL... "if strike resolution isn't forthcoming within one week." Surprisingly, we got good response to this.
"Fans want players and owners to show them the respect they are due as the financiers of the game," I said that beautiful fall day in 1982. "We are not pro-player; we are not pro-owner," I said. "Neither are we anti-player or anti-owner. We are pro fans. We want fans to have a right to the first class football for which ticket sales were made. We feel both owners and players have the responsibility to provide this based on ticket prices charged."
We encouraged people to write letters to sponsors of televised football games. "Tell them that football fans will not purchase the sponsor's product because anyone associated with the game of football during the 1982 season does not have the better interest of the fans at heart."
We recommended that fans boycott all products advertised by NFL players. We demanded refund policies be put in place. For example, when season ticket sales promotion literature was sent to season ticket buyers in 1982, no one informed fans a player strike was imminent or likely. It was known to be a probable event at the time owners promoted ticket sales.
We -- the NFLFU -- were concerned about the lack of third-party mediation. Talks were going nowhere. Management was represented in the talks; players through their union were represented in the talks, but fans whose ticket purchases finance the game were not included in the talks. We offered to provide trained mediators to help bring the players' strike to a conclusion acceptable to everyone.
As most Bronco fans know, Mile High Stadium was always sold out. Season tickets became bartering weapons between husbands and wives when they divorced. No one wanted to lose their season tickets... and, in a sense, it was a kind of blackmail.
If a strike was called during any season, there was little doubt the quality of football that season would be less than the ticket price justified. Fans, however, could not refuse to pay for their season tickets. If they did, they would lose their standing... their position in line for improved tickets when they became available. They could lose their existing season tickets, as well.
The NFLFU wanted management and players to guarantee no loss of ticket priority for fans who refused to buy tickets during a strike year that provided no or inferior football.
We even challenged a Supreme Court ruling made in 1922. It held that professional sports were exempt from typical antitrust provisions because no product was sold. I felt that ruling, made in an economic environment driven by manufacturing (rather than today's service-driven economy) was antiquated. It was.
The Fans' Union told players they should not expect owners to let them leave the club after investing risk capital in them. They were unknown college athletes who had a greater risk of failure than success when they signed. Team owners needed to be compensated if players exercised the free agency rights for which they fought.
We told the owners they should not access a system of "sports slavery." They could not blindly restrict player movement within the league after being sufficiently compensated for risking capital to develop a college kid into a pro.
The Fans Union was a great idea. At the time we formed it, I was traveling all over the country consulting for banks. When I was scheduled to be in an NFL city, my secretary called ahead to let the media know I'd be glad to talk with them. We did numerous television interviews.
One of the more interesting things that happened during the short-lived NFLFU was the responses I got from team owners to letters I wrote them explaining the Union's positions. I will always remember how gentlemanly were the responses... except the one from the owner of the Cleveland Browns. He was not only rude, he was anti-expansion and never wanted an American Football Conference in the first place. He swore the Broncos would never play on his field! You can imagine how I felt when John Elway threw his "Hail Mary" pass in the Cleveland statium -- closing seconds of the game. That pass defeated the Browns and sent the Broncos to the Super Bowl.
We had a lot of people become paid members. Many made contributions. It was just not enough to hire someone to represent the fans full-time. Every penny that was sent to us was returned with our apologies.
We sold bumper stickers and baseball caps and tee shirts with the NFLFU logo on it. One day, I rather imagine they will be worth a small fortune. I wrote as song called NFLFU and a group in London recorded it. I'll hold onto it in case another strike year appears on the horizon. It may yet be a hit.
Did we fail? It's hard to tell. Who knows how much influence those letters had on players and management? They feared the involvement of fans in the strike.
The bottom line: The strike was dropped and the season, though late, went on as scheduled.