For better or worse, NFL football is something I hold near and dear, so the recent CBA negotiations that are threatening the upcoming 2011 NFL season are of particular interest to me (and many of you). Just as intriguing is the media war that has commenced between the NFL owners and the NFLPA (players organization) that has encouraged media members and fans alike to choose sides. Though it seems silly to actually do so considering we are talking about a disagreement between millionaires and billionaires, I’ve been shocked to see much of both the media and the fanbase actually side with the owners.
And here’s why (and a bit of history):
The factionalism began immediately after the Collective Bargaining extension agreement (CBA) in 2006. With then NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in the final years of his tenure, most owners believed he cut a “sweetheart deal” with then union head Gene Upshaw to ensure that football games would be played the following season. But included in the CBA was an opt out clause for the owners in 2008 which would signal an official end to the agreement before the 2011 season (thus putting this season in jeopardy). Now, the NFL gets the majority of its income (both players and owners alike) from TV contracts and, under the current deal, the league (owners) negotiate the contract on behalf of both the league and the NFLPA. But during the last negotiation, the owners, clearly with a 2011 season lockout in mind, negotiated a deal in which ONLY the owners get paid 4 billion dollars even if no games are played in the 2011 season. Pretty sweet for them.
The NFL is a 9 billion dollar business and under the current deal the owners take a billion off the top before splitting the rest with the NFLPA. Claiming they are not making enough profit for their investment, the owners proposed to take an extra billion before splitting the rest. In addition, they proposed to increase the schedule to 18 games a year (which the players are vehemently against, last year’s season ended with 300+ players on injured reserve), but refusing to pay the players more, essentially asking them to take a ten percent pay cut. The players, obviously against this, asked for more benefits for retirees and agreed to have a rookie salary cap (since rookie salaries were getting out of control.) Though both sides did agree to the rookie salary cap and the retention of the original 16 game schedule, they remain far apart on the overall revenue. But, essentially, the players were more or less fine with the status quo with, from what I understand, the money being saved from the rookie salary cap pool funneled into a veteran retirement fund.
Now, once the conclusion of the 2010 occurred, owners appeared lockstep in lockout knowing they still had the 4 billion dollars from the television contracts for expenses, but something unexpected happened. Judge David Doty ruled that the NFL did not negotiate those contracts with the players in mind, therefore claimed they were not entitled to that sum. Most then thought the NFL would come to the table with a fair offer, but when the players asked the owners to open their books to prove the teams weren’t money making ventures as thought, the owners would only go so far. Once the negotiating deadline hit and there was no deal to be made, the players union decertified so the individual players could sue the league in an anti-trust suit. Since then, Commissioner Roger Goodell and many of the owners have blitzed the media with tales that they tried to meet the players union halfway and that the union was being uncooperative. Halfway from what, I’m not sure.
One of the perils of being an NFL player, other than the obvious dangerous nature of the game, is that they’ve prepared their entire lives for this one job and they have no alternative but to play in the National Football League. If they don’t like their contracts or playing conditions, they have nowhere else to go to ply their trade. Also, the average NFL player only plays three seasons and often is left with debilitating injuries that require a lifetime of rehabilitation. Now, it’s easy to say “no one has to play football,” but that’s really here nor there. The fact is people tune in to watch the players bang heads, they don’t watch football to see a bunch of wrinkly old white men count their money.
So, in a nutshell, the NFL owners did not negotiate the television deal in good faith, full well expecting to lockout the players with their upper hand. They asked the players to play MORE games, when the rate of injury under the current amount is too high, and on top of that, asked them to take a pay cut. The players, happy in the current deal when EVERYONE is making money and the sport is at the height of its popularity (the last two Superbowls were the two highest rated TV programs of all time), merely are asking for the status quo, but are obviously willing to compromise (a little) for the good of the league…they just want proof the owners are losing profit, which of course, the owners will not fully provide.
In addition to this, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, during a negotiation, assume the richer guy is trying to put one over on the poorer (I’m sorry if this is unfair). But, simply speaking, the reality is even under the current deal the owners are making a pretty profit. While each NFL team may not make its full potential profit due to revenue sharing (the NFL works, more or less, as a cartel), I don’t think any of these owners are starving. If they can’t buy a 20th mansion because of money they are “losing” under the current agreement, I’m sorry to hear that.
Its mind boggling that a bunch of rich people can’t decide how to split 9 billion dollars in revenue, and I agree that both sides are responsible for the impasse. But to put the blame on the players union and to imply they are greedier than the owners? You must be crazy.