Monday, January 21, 2008

Open Letter To the NFL

In case you missed it, last year during the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, churches all across the country were hit with the realization that the Super Bowl parties we've been having for, well, as long as the Super Bowl has existed, were in violation of all sorts of NFL/Nielson/Copyright policies. It's no secret that the entire thing comes down to money. The very nice lady who did call me back from the NFL legal department suggests that it all comes down to those pesky Nielson numbers. They have no way of adequately accounting for the numbers of folks who watch their product in churches & other establishments around the country. Those final numbers are the carrot that allows them to get millions of $ per thirty second commercial each Super Bowl. It allows the NFL and the networks to keep their product free on TV while still making an enormous amount of jack from Frito Lay, Pepsi, Budwiser et al. (I guess they don't make nearly enough of those millions, since they created their own network and charge their customers even more to get to see those games...but that's a different arguement).

Well, we have a little "Big Game" party for the homeless. Oh, one of the many stipulations is you are NOT allowed to call it by its actual name. Really, I'm not making that up. We plan to play by the rules, including screen size, not charging (we weren't anyway...come on, they're homeless folks!), etc. But my hope is that the folks at the NFL, Nielson, and whoever else it takes would get together and find a simple way to manage this. Even though they don't want to look like the bad guy in all of this, they do. A couple of interesting articles from last season's fiasco worth reading are :
and here (this article gives some pretty reasonable solutions, too!)

Below is my letter (which incidently did get a follow-up phone call from a very nice lady from the NFL)

To whom it may concern at the National Football League,

We were met with a great deal of surprise regarding the story that hit the front page of the Indianapolis Star last season regarding church Super Bowl parties, along with a flurry of reports on all evening news telecasts in the Indianapolis area. We were equally surprised that there was any problem with getting people together to enjoy the big game, especially since for most of us in central Indiana, this was the first time we’ve ever had the thrill of "our team" making that game.
I certainly understand your efforts to protect your product and to also protect fans from ticket & merchandise fraud, etc. But I do hope you might reconsider your regulations regarding churches gathering to watch the game on a screen big enough to handle a group of people that might not fit into the average living room, as well as families that want to enjoy the game with a large group and aren’t interested in the bar scene that many enjoy.

For the third year in a row, we plan to invite the homeless from our community to our facility for their evening meal (the shelters are planning to give their kitchen crews the night off), and the chance to enjoy the game and all of the snacks and fun that go with the typical big game gathering. In the last two years, we averaged over 70 homeless men, women & children that climbed in our vans and came out to participate. Last year, to fit within the guidelines that emerged about a week prior to the game, we were forced to 'punt' and have 2 parties at 2 locations so that screen size would be appropriate. It turned out fine, but was an enormous adjustment and not the event we hoped it would be.

I’m sure you are aware that these parties have gone on since the big game was started. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever watched the game at home. For those of us (most Americans) who can never afford to get to one of these games in person, getting together with others and rooting for a team is the next best thing. I know that in youth groups & churches all across America, plans are being made for families of all ages to get together and cheer on their team and enjoy the spectacle that is the commercial breaks.

For the homeless folks we want to serve, their options are even less, as you would probably expect. Most may have a marginal interest in the game, but many do not. These aren't folks who are going to show up in Nielson ratings at any level. They are, however, looking for something to do, a place that’s warm, and food to eat. Our intent isn’t to preach, charge admission, or violate any of the NFL’s policy. We just want to offer food & football to the 80 or so homeless in our community. I’m asking for you to please consider these suggestions:
  1. We would like to continue with our plans to host our local homeless community. There will be approx. 30 or so volunteers here, mixing in with the 70-80 homeless guests, having conversation, popcorn, pizza, etc. We would like to project the game onto a larger screen, since 100 or so people couldn’t possibly gather around the 27-inch TVs we have. So I’m seeking permission to do our party as planned.
  2. I’m also asking that you consider working together with some churches to develop a fully-sanctioned church/NFL event. We’re all well-intentioned, have every desire to be law abiding, and many churches are in a quandry at the moment about how to proceed.
  3. I would also hope you would sit down with a few of us, find out what really goes on at these parties and how we do them, and see that we’re not hurting your product. In fact, most parties are decked out in NFL merchandise, team jerseys, etc. I would even like to invite someone to join us for our event and see how tastefully it is done.
  4. Have other options been explored? Perhaps a downloadable form to give details about a gathering, with numbers & ages of people present? Might that somehow satisfy the Nielson component? How about selling a licensing fee? We’ve done this before with certain movies, like The Passion of the Christ for instance, where they made available a fairly inexpensive license that allowed us a one-time large screen showing of the film. I believe the cost was a sliding scale, based on audience size.

Again, we have every desire to do what’s right, and we hope that you will find a way to partner with the many, many churches that have the ability and desire to pull their people together to celebrate & enjoy this terrific annual event. The entire thing was disappointing last year to many of us; of course it did help that our local team became Super Bowl champions.

Please consider these suggestions along with the many I'm sure you're received from countless other churches & non-profit groups just looking to enjoy your product and enjoy one another.

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