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Joe Starkey: Art Rooney II wrong, NFL right on Thursday night flex

PITTSBURGH — I’m loathe to agree with Jerry Jones on anything, but the motormouthed Dallas Cowboys owner could not have been more right about the NFL’s decision to make Thursday night football “flexible.”

Which is to say, the league can now move out of a bad Thursday matchup (think Panthers-Falcons from last season) into a good one with at least 28 days notice — and only in Weeks 13-17. And only twice in those five weeks.

It’s not exactly a seismic change. We’re talking about a couple of games, maximum, and the vast majority of NFL fans stand to benefit. That means basically all of us who watch games on television.

Why should we settle for a bad game when we can have a good one? To save ticket buyers some inconvenience?

I mean, I feel badly … but not that badly. NFL games already are flexed to different time slots late in the year, right?

Reporters brought the inconvenience issue to Jones at the NFL owners meetings in Minneapolis. He responded this way:

“Very, very important point. Every owner in that room lives and breathes sensitivity to those (ticket-buying) fans. But only 7% of our fans have ever been inside a stadium. Seven. Percent. So you’ve got a lot of fans — a huge majority of the fans that are out there — that this is good for them.”

In other words, this is for the greater good. Or the greater gold. They’re one in the same in this case. I don’t believe Jones for a second that the NFL really cares about the ticket-buying public. It doesn’t really care about players, either. (I had to laugh when the new kickoff rule was implemented on account of player safety even as teams were being scheduled for multiple Thursday night games in the same season.)

The NFL cares about money first. Luckily for us, that means putting the best games on television whenever possible. This isn’t complicated. As a wise man once said, “The answer to all of your questions is money.” Amazon paid about $1 billion per year to televise Thursday night football. It has a right to the best games possible, even if that inconveniences, say, a family of four from Green Bay who had a big trip planned to Nashville for a football game.

Steelers president Art Rooney II voted against the measure, as did seven other teams (Giants, Jets, Lions, Bengals, Packers, Raiders, Bears). All of them can now stand up and say they tried to protect their loyal in-stadium fans, so that’s a small win, I suppose.

Giants owner John Mara went so far as to call the proposal “abusive and inconsiderate” to ticket buyers. No word on how Mara feels about season-ticket holders reportedly paying $3,600 per season, plus $300 for parking for four seats in his stadium’s upper deck. And that was after having been robbed like so many others across sports for a “personal seat license,” the cost of which they feared they could not recoup if they wanted to unload their tickets.

Then again, at least Mara’s stadium was privately funded. Most of the rest of league got fans to pay for their stadiums and renovate them — and don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pony up soon for improvements to Acrisure Stadium. The Bills are getting a shiny new stadium in upstate New York, and the taxpayers of New York State reportedly are picking up most of the $1.4 billion-dollar tab.

How very considerate of all involved.

Anyway, who are we kidding here? Good matchups draw bigger audiences. According to a recent piece in The Athletic on Thursday night TV ratings, Chiefs-Chargers drew 13 million viewers last season, while Panthers-Falcons drew 6.8 million.

Imagine having the choice between those two games on a particular Thursday night. Are you telling me you’d settle for Panthers-Falcons because you’d feel badly for the ticket buyers and travelers?

You’re a better person than me.

I want the better game.

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) picks up yardage against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sept. 22, 2022, in Cleveland. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images/TNS)

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) picks up yardage against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sept. 22, 2022, in Cleveland. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images/TNS)

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