- - Thursday, January 2, 2014

“Greed is good,” Gordon Gekko, the famous movie villain of “Wall Street,” told us. But only for a little while. Eventually greed costs too much, as some of the owners of professional football are learning this weekend.

Three of the four clubs in the playoffs can’t sell all their tickets, and without a sellout their fans can’t watch the game on television because the city — not only the city, but the region — is blacked out. The owners arranged this years ago to intimidate fans into buying tickets, or else.

Tickets cost up to $300 each, or more, depending on the city and the club, but the billionaire owners and millionaire players can’t understand why anybody should object. Isn’t everyone who isn’t a billionaire a millionaire?

The owners reckon the only solution to their fans falling away is to emulate the taxpayer-supported Public Broadcasting System, and hold endless begging sessions. In Cincinnati, where the Bengals made the playoffs, the club management shot a video with several players begging fans to buy tickets. One former player, made a millionaire by the fans, said he would buy the 8,000 unsold tickets, but this turned out to be merely boasting that he was rich enough to do it. He was actually only joking.

In Green Bay, where the Packers have cultivated the legend that people put their newborn babies on the waiting list for tickets in the hope that one day they, too, might have the opportunity spend a few hours on a Sunday freezing in the thrill of sleet and freezing rain.

Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh (4) gets past Missouri defensive back Duron Singleton (2) during the second half of the Cotton Bowl NCAA college football game on Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh (4) gets past Missouri defensive back Duron ... more >

Dirty players who get away with slap shots across the side of a helmet or a thumb in the eye of a defender could learn a lot about the art of the gouge by watching executives from the front office. Parking is beyond priceless, and some clubs use fencing to make the lucky fan who finds a parking place on the street or in someone’s front yard walk around the stadium to find a way to his seat. Who can afford the $7 hot dog or the $10 cup of warm beer after paying $300 for his ticket and another $40 to park the car?

Some clubs, like the one in Cincinnati, are appealing to municipal patriotism. “NFL playoff games are rare and wonderful chances for communities to showcase their communities in front of a national TV audience of roughly 30 million viewers,” the Bengals front office said, urging fans to buy tickets. The gougers remain excited about Sunday’s game, and how football can make everybody happy, healthy and prosperous, but only if the gougees do their part. “However,” the Bengals owners said, “we need to be candid that unless our daily rate of sales increases, we will not achieve a sellout, and the game will not be televised in Cincinnati, Dayton or Lexington, Ky., per NFL policy.”

Television’s fountain of money has all but ruined the appeal of sports, even at the college level, where coaches are paid multiples of millions annually, where loyalty to the old school has all but disappeared and the players, no longer satisfied with a free education (such as it might be) and public adulation before they retire to bagging groceries or drawing unemployment checks, are demanding part of the loot at the gate.

You might think that it would occur to the owners, or university presidents who are the owners at the college level, that strangling the golden goose is not a long-term strategy for success. Fans, reading about outlandish salaries paid to players who are often just this side of illiterate and owners who would shame Gordon Gekko, get no relief from escalating ticket prices.

Mr. Gekko, in fact, has gone to work for the government to warn everyone not to be like him. Michael Douglas, the actor who portrayed the fictional Mr. Gekko, says greed is not so good. Now he tells us. He will make television commercials for the FBI, promoting its “Perfect Hedge” campaign against insider trading on Wall Street. The campaign will include real-life wiretaps from 57 successful prosecutions for financial fraud on the street.

“In the movie,” he says, “I played a greedy corporate executive who cheated to profit while innocent investors lost their savings. The movie was fiction, but the problem is real.”

Greed has its uses, but it costs, a lesson Gordon Gekko learned to his sorrow. There’s a lesson here for the heroes and the bums of sport if they’re smart enough to learn it.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.