Art Rooney II says he's hopeful the Steelers will have at least some fans at their final six regular-season home games, beginning with the Oct. 11 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. All NFL owners want fans at their games for two obvious reasons.
One, they want to extract as much ticket, parking, concession and merchandise revenue as possible out of this coronavirus-impacted season. And two, they want to give their team a competitive advantage, slight as it might be, by having the fans cheering on their players.
But there is a third, less obvious reason:
The NFL owners don't want you to get used to watching the games at home.
That possibility has to be terrifying to them.
This was an NFL issue even before the COVID-19 pandemic, an issue that ranked right there with concussions among league headaches.
It is difficult to go to an NFL game. Start with the cost of a ticket, which isn't as cheap as it once was. Throw in the drive to the stadium, the traffic around it and the cost of parking. Then there is the exorbitant cost of concessions once you get into the game. You have to take out a small loan to buy a hot dog and a soft drink.
It's a lot easier to watch the game at home. You see it better in your family room, thanks to your hi-definition television. The replays are much better. The bathroom is right down the hallway. The beer is cold and plentiful in your refrigerator. Pizza and wings can be delivered at a reasonable price.
Beyond all of that, there are no strange drunks in your family room. Chances are no one will spill beer on you or, worse, throw up on you. No one will ask to climb over you 12 times during the game to go to the rest room. You will control the language. It will be only as vile as you allow.
NFL owners don't want you to find out how enjoyable the game experience is at home.
They certainly don't want you getting used to it.
Watching at home isn't for everyone, of course. Just as baseball has the lure of a nice summer night at the ballpark in normal times, football has the lure of a communal event. A lot of people want to be a part of the action. They don't care about the cost or the inconvenience. Think back to the 1970s when the Steelers won four Super Bowls. Going to Three Rivers Stadium was a privilege. It didn't matter if you were white or Black, male or female, young or old. You wanted to be there to share in the joy of another Steelers win. It gave many Pittsburghers an increased feeling of self-worth.
The NFL always will have that going for it.
But to what degree?
A crowd of about 15,000 is expected for the Houston-Kansas City game Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium. That will leave about 61,000 empty seats for the Chiefs' celebration of their world championship.
What if the pandemic keeps crowds down all season?
How many of those 61,000 fans won't come back when they are allowed next season?
The NFL really should be terrified at the possibilities.