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NFL teams are at a point where "'sellouts' are the norm but full houses are becoming the exception," and not just where "woeful" teams play, according to Will Graves of the AP. The Steelers through four games at Heinz Field this season are averaging 61,465 people, the "lowest over the same span" since the stadium opened in '01. This is a "trend hitting the league regardless of market size or on-field success." Only five teams in '08 played to stadiums less than 95% full, and that number has "doubled this season at a time when TV ratings are at their best" since '06. The Redskins have "one of the NFL's rising stars" in QB Robert Griffin III but "are playing to just" 88.9% capacity this season. Meanwhile, the "surprising" Jets have the "nation's largest metropolitan area to pull from" and only 93.3% of those with tickets are showing up. The NFL "amended its TV blackout rule last year," allowing teams to sell only 85% of its non-premium tickets to "meet the threshold necessary to have home games broadcast locally." While the decision has "done nothing but goose TV ratings even further, getting folks into the stadium on a regular basis in some cities remains a tough task." The Raiders and Jaguars have "massive drapes that cover entire sections," which "reduces capacity but hasn't exactly increased demand." While the atmosphere has "improved with the Raiders," only 81.4% of ticket holders "make it to their seats." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "continues to stress" the in-game fan experience, which was discussed today at the '13 Covington & Burling Sports Media & Technology conference, "remains important to the league." It also "remains important to the bottom lines of owners, if only to fatten their wallets" (AP, 11/14). The Jaguars announced that they have "distributed about 59,000 tickets for their first three home games, but there have been around 10,000 no-shows for each game so there have been about 50,000 fans in the stadium" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 11/14).
MAJORITY RULE: In Seattle, Larry Stone wrote under the header, "Despite All Its Warts, NFL Still Appeals To The Vast Majority." It "seems like nothing can cut into the runaway popularity of the sport, and goodness knows, that perception is being put to a severe test." The NFL "has two secret weapons ensuring its ongoing popularity -- betting and fantasy." They both "exist in baseball and other sports, of course, but nowhere near to the extent of pro football." Those two elements "ensure an ardent interest in even the most seemingly trivial games." However, that is "not to say the NFL will stay blessed forever," as the concussion issue, "in particular, is one that poses a grave threat to its ongoing place in the sports hierarchy" (SEATTLE TIMES, 11/12).
The NFLPA yesterday announced it is "partnering with the Cleveland Clinic in a program to test and treat retired football players with brain trauma," according to Steve Carp of the LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL. Under the program, called "The Trust," former players "can get physical and neurological evaluations and receive a plan to treat problems resulting for blows to the head." Las Vegas-based Dr. Charles Bernick said that the opportunity for former NFLers to "receive help will give them a chance to extend their lives." Bernick said that the "neurological conditions players suffer are garnered over time and that’s a separate battle the NFLPA will have to fight in terms of making the game safer." Carp reports the program will "be free to all former NFL players." Players can "go to three Cleveland Clinic sites -- its main campus in Cleveland, Ohio, and its clinics in Las Vegas and Weston, Fla. -- or to the University of North Carolina or Tulane University." It begins with "a comprehensive medical history and exams, including a brain scan, cognitive evaluations and psychological interviews." Doctors will "give players personalized treatment plans to relieve symptoms, slow degeneration and restore function." The plan calls for "continued communication between the player and doctors" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 11/14).
DROP IN YOUTH PARTICIPATION: ESPN.com's Fainaru & Fainaru-Wada noted Pop Warner youth football "saw participation drop 9.5 percent between 2010-12, a sign that the concussion crisis that began in the NFL is having a dramatic impact at the lowest rungs of the sport." Pop Warner "lost 23,612 players, thought to be the largest two-year decline since the organization began keeping statistics decades ago." Pop Warner officials believe "several factors played a role in the decline, including the trend of youngsters focusing on one sport." But the organization's chief medical officer, Dr. Julian Bailes, cited "concerns about head injuries as 'the No. 1 cause'" (ESPN.com, 11/13).
NASCAR driver Travis Pastrana today said his decision to leave NASCAR is because his team was "not making the progress that we need to really get the funding." Pastrana: "Selfishly, I really want to keep putting everything into NASCAR, but realistically I just don't have that extra something that I've had in some of the other sports." He added, "I never thought I'd have to be out this quick and thought I'd failed this much, but it's tough work." Pastrana said he has "great opportunities now with off-road cars and all the dirt stuff" ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 11/14). In Charlotte, Jim Utter writes Pastrana leaving the sport "wasn't because of lack of effort or commitment." From his "first days, Pastrana tried to give himself every opportunity to improve." He "showed some improvement and signs of speed" at the beginning of this season, but "never seemed to be able to capture the finesse needed on asphalt tracks." There were "many who pinned a lot of expectations on Pastrana’s NASCAR experiment, hoping it would translate into something bigger and better for the sport." His exit might serve "as an important reminder of two things." First, NASCAR competition is "tough and just because someone excelled at another form of racing doesn't mean it will translate here." Second, before "pronouncing someone as great for the sport, it's best to wait and see if they are at least good at it" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 11/14).