Holler: Rules change will change little

A rules change allowing messages to encourage cheering and requiring more video replays will likely do little to actually enhance the fan experience.

The NFL is always preaching to the choir about maintaining competitive balance. You hear it all the time – from Commissioner Roger Goodell all the way down the line.

However, the NFL announced Friday that it is going to make a concession to the masses. Under the new policy, teams can put video prompts to the crowd that will encourage crowd noise. The league clearly equates noise with the fan experience – the true reason for the change in game-day policy. While the intent of the new procedure is also to open up the use of replays – good or bad – in stadiums, which could be an advantage to those buildings with more elaborate video screens, the crux of the change dealt much more with prompting crowd noise than it did the ability to show replays that in-house fans can see like those watching the game (and seeing the replays) on their own home televisions.

My experience with the NFL from a fan-in-the-stands perspective is minimal. The only time I went hoarse at a sporting event was Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. It was the first game my newlywed bride had ever been to – suffice to say, she never got the same impression of a baseball game that followed.

What made that impressive was that the Metrodome is as lame a venue to make a statement on anything video-related. After a shockingly fortunate run of luck in NCAA March Madness clairvoyance last year, I was in the market for a big TV and willing to pay in a fat stack of distressed $20 bills (when they don't like paying out so often, the envelope tends to be rife with ratty, small-head bills). Zealous box-store employees pointed me in the direction of home TVs that are comparable in size to the Metrodome's Not-So-Jumbotron. Considering that Jerry Jones has a video screen that is longer than many inner-city property lines, the Metrodome's mini-version is a competitive disadvantage.

Some of us had just stop laughing from the requirement enacted last week that required teams to have cameras in the locker room for video use (Visanthe Shiancoe, this is your life!). The inequity on a video screen equivalency is only half of the non-issue. If the NFL wants to enhance the in-house experience – the bottom line on both of the recent rules changes – video encouragement with the potential for subliminal messaging would be a win-win by encouraging the purchase of overpriced popcorn and overpriced beverages thereafter.

If the NFL wants to enhance the fan experience, it's simple. Don't make your fan base pay $8 for a beer. Five bucks is plenty for a beer that gets warmer with every step the sweaty purveyor of the beverages takes. Make it so a family of four can afford to attend games. That's why attendance is down. It has little to do with the enhanced video experience at-home fans have or adding more attention to replays that could potentially help a coach throw a challenge flag. The current influx of technological advancements has forced a response from the NFL. They already show replays in the stadium, unless it's obvious that the home team got a break from the officials. Not much will really change. Who would ever have thought that tech-geeks could be a driving force in the NFL?

The NFL's response to the problem of non-universal sellouts has inadvertently exposed another issue that has been as silent an admission as the reluctant acceptance that playing football might (just might) cause brain-related issue. If you want to get a crowd to cheer – whether via the Imax screen at the "Taj Ma Y'all" in suburban Dallas or the best big-screen Serbia could provide the Metrodome – isn't that the job of the cheerleaders?

To quote Brian Fantana, "Don't get me wrong. I love the ladies." But it's time to make a corporate decision – are cheerleaders actually cheerleaders or are they 110-pound employees who play a role in the game day production.

There has been a longstanding question about the purpose of cheerleaders at the NFL level. From the day a fan fashioned a big letter D and a four-picket version of a fence and it got shown on TV, it became clear that the cheerleader was an endangered species – at least in terms of a profession.

To re-Tweet Fantana, I'm a fan of NFL cheerleaders. I have been since my middle school days. As a personal mea culpa, if not for cheerleaders, I likely could not accurately spell the word "aggressive." To this day, it is broken into three keyboard bursts – agg-ress-ive ("Be aggressive! YOU can be aggressive!"). Isn't that the job of cheerleaders – to lead the fans in cheers? Clearly not in the NFL.

Cheerleaders are more of a dance line of young women without body fat. For years, they have gone from being those who lead the cheers to those who provide choreographed entertainment during timeouts and between quarters and pose for pictures with fans.

While these new rules will give fans who have forgotten to make noise the cue that it's time to scream – like a giant "Applause" sign used to cue a TV studio audience – it doesn't really matter if it's on the movie screen sized video screen in Dallas or the oversized TV screen at the Metrodome. If you need cues to encourage fans to get into the game, there's something missing in the fan experience.

These rules changes will do little in the way of impacting the game itself other than to prove once again that NFL cheerleaders are little more than sideline eye candy whose job has very little to do with actually leading cheers. If allowing video technicians to implore fans to get out of their seats and make noise enhances the experience, power to them.

You have to applaud the NFL for attempting to improve the fan experience at games, but it would appear their most recent measures will have little to no impact on achieving that goal.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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