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Roger Goodell makes dubious claim fans attending games provides no competitive advantage

A stadium with fans does impact competitive advantage, but the owners have revenue issues to worry about.

San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs fans look on in game action during the Super Bowl LIV game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers on February 2, 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium, in Miami Gardens, FL. Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has made some dubious statements over the years, and as the 2020 regular season approaches, he’s back at it. On Tuesday, Goodell told reporters that he and the league’s Competition Committee do not believe a competitive advantage will arise if some teams have fans in attendance this season and others do not. He reiterated that belief in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday.

The league has not issued a singular attendance policy during the Covid-19 pandemic, and this has resulted in each team coming up with their own policy. If their local health officials will allow them to have partial attendance, they’ll do it. This has resulted in a handful of teams planning on having fans in Week 1, some saying not for now but they’ll keep trying, and the Las Vegas Raiders and Washington ruling out fans for the entire season.

Coaches have raised concerns about the potential for a competitive advantage. We don’t have specific math on what fans vs. no fans actually mean, but oddsmakers are going to make adjustments. DraftKings Sportsbook oddsmaker Johnny Avello said he would cut a team’s homefield advantage in half if they have no funs, and will cut it a little bit less if they have a limited capacity — if a team’s homefield is 3, Johnny would cut it to roughly 1.5 with no fans and 2.0 if there is some limited capacity.

Odds can be as much an art as a science, but the house has the edge because oddsmakers know what they’re doing. Having fans in attendance impacts the atmosphere and how the home and away team might play. Roger Goodell and the owners know this.

So, why would Goodell say something that seems blatantly false? Although there once was a belief pro sport commissioners were looking out for the best interests of the sport, it has long since been proven that commissioners are paid to look out for the best interests of the owners. Rather than being a neutral arbitrator between players and owners, a commissioner is effectively the point person for the owners.

Teams are losing revenue streams during the pandemic, and will continue pursuing every source of potential added income. Most if not all of the owners don’t care about competitive advantage during the pandemic if it means they can slow the revenue losses. Goodell is there to do their bidding, and so he makes the dubious statement that having fans vs. having no fans has no bearing on competitive advantage. It’s how the commissioner/owner relationship works.