SNIDER: NFL can play without fans

The NFL is pondering whether to play before empty stadiums this fall. They absolutely can afford to do so.
A survey of NFL revenues from 2010-18 shows only 15 percent comes from ticket sales. I always knew TV paid for everything, but throw in increasing revenues from merchandise, sports wagering, Red Zone, fantasy sports and overseas broadcast rights and ticket sales are just extra money jingling in NFL owners' pockets used to buy $170 million yachts.
The survey doesn't show individual teams' revenues. The Redskins being privately owned are under no obligation to show their books. But owner Dan Snyder should support empty venues if that's the only way for the season to continue.
Sure, it's easy to tell him to lose money, but shared pain is the only way the world will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. Fat cat owners need to do more than offer their facilities or donate money. They can also afford to play in empty venues while keeping Americans amused as we struggle through isolation that might return this fall.
Team owners have increasingly tried to grab every dollar from fans over recent years. It's called capitalism and perfectly legal. Fans have a right to turn away, too. Certainly, many Redskins fans have stopped supporting the team in recent years. Attendance in late-season games last year appeared to be 5,000 to 10,000 local fans and the rest visiting supporters. The good news is if the league approves one proposal where only every third seat is filled, well then the Redskins are sold out once more.
The NFL needs to do the right thing and that means tearing off a piece of the mountainous profits for the good of the game. It will feel weird, but then what hasn't lately? Having no season at all would be pure greed when other revenue streams still provide profit.
Barry Bonds once remarked during his controversial home run title chase of wishing teams could play before no crowds like their sandlot days. Sure, that's called amateur baseball where you don't get paid. But the NFL and some other pro leagues now rely heavily on other revenues, so it's OK to play solely for TV and internet audiences. If colleges, which conversely rely heavily on ticket sales, opt out this fall, the NFL has free reign to play on Saturdays, too. That might even grow the pro sport's following in heavy college football areas.
Luckily, the NFL has the benefit of time and watching how other pro leagues handle games first. Meanwhile, the NFL schedule has been delayed nearly one month until May 9 to avoid making changes. Certainly, training camp won’t have fans, so who knows if it's worth the Redskins finishing their final year in Richmond over staying in Ashburn.
There are no easy decisions, but that the NFL not being reliant on ticket sales makes this a no-brainer. If the stands must be empty to play the games, then so be it.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks