If you're a sports fan and not living under a rock, you know that the NFL owners have locked out the players. Of course, labor is complicated, and, let's be honest, it is way beyond most of the mouth-breathing sports media out there to explain it in any coherent fashion.
So that's where I come in. I'm not going to claim to be a world-renowned expert on sports labor, but I do keep an eye on it as kind of an amateur hobby. Here's the basics of the current situation, neatly distilled for your consumption.
Way back in 1993, the owners and the players agreed to a way to share revenue and establish business relations that has undergone minor revisions every few years, but has mostly stayed consistent. This established free agency as well as the salary cap, and also set revenue sharing in the current state it is in.
Fast forward to 2006. In 11th hour talks between then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue and then-players union head Gene Upshaw, the players and the owners agreed to, well, keep things operating at the status quo, which seemed to be working out well as the NFL was experiencing record growth and bringing in more and more money every year.
The owners didn't so much like this, as for whatever reason, they felt like they deserved a larger slice of the revenue. So they decided to plan ahead. They made sure that there was a contract in the TV deal that paid them, even in the event of a work stoppage, even if they were the ones who initiated it. The TV stations, knowing that they essentially have to take the deal that the NFL offers them, signed the contract. Then, the owners promptly waited for the first moment they could opt out of their current labor deal, did so, and waited for the cash to pour in for a service that they cancelled in the first place.
Luckily, courts have ruled that this deal violates antitrust laws, so the owners aren't getting that money. But don't you think that's a move in pretty bad faith? Negotiating to get money for something you know you aren't going to deliver, and then using that money to fund a work stoppage of any significant length is deliberately using the system in a way that proves bad intentions. Ick.
But let's get past that for a moment. The owners say they deserve a larger slice of the television revenue. Let's look at what the owners do.
1) Own a franchise in one of the most exclusive businesses the world knows.
2) Interface with the community (and the community just looooooves the owners, don't they?)
3) Pony up a large amount of money that is an almost guaranteed return on investment as the value of an NFL franchise hasn't dropped since the NFL was formed way back in the 1920s.
Tell me again, why is that so difficult? I'm really struggling to figure out what value the owners really provide to the NFL. I mean, really, if we got 32 different billionaires to run the teams, do we really think that the output of the NFL would be worse? Not that I wish bad things for these 32 guys, but are they really that essential as individuals?
Meanwhile, let's look at what the players do.
1) They sacifice their physical well-being for years of their lives for the sake of playing football.
2) They are culled through intensive training for their entire lives to get to pro football. Only the best of the best of the best make it to the NFL, and only the best of those manage to stick around for more than a couple years.
Can you imagine football without the players? Do you think these guys are replaceable? Do you think that, just maybe, they might be a little more integral to the game that the owners?
But the owners want more money. Why? Their big reason seems to be... get this... because they have output too much money building all the new stadiums, and they are in difficult straits. These are the same stadiums that are largely funded through public contributions. You know, the ones that taxpayers get coerced into paying for when the teams threaten that they will move if they don't get their stadium. And this is the real kicker: guess who gets ALL of the revenue for these stadiums? The owners. The players don't see any of that revenue, and the cities are also snubbed except for a very few cases where they take a slice of concessions or application of a tax on tickets. So all the additional value that these stadiums generate? It is ALL going to the owners.
Is it possible that these stadiums, despite the public funding for the initial building costs, and despite all the revenue they make, are still not profitable for the owners? If that's true, the owners sure have a funny way of learning their lesson. Owners continue to clamor for new stadiums in places like here in Minnesota and in St. Louis. Why would they want to poison public opinion against them and generate a huge amount of ill-will by threatening to move in order to get a stadium that will be a financial burden on the franchise? They don't. They gain ill-will to increase profits. The dirty secret that the owners don't want you to think about is that these stadiums are swindles on a citywide scale, which use public funds to line the pockets of some of the richest individuals in the country.
But the owners persist that they are in difficult financial straits, despite revenue continuing to go up, and franchise value also increasing. The players are suspicious of this, and so they ask the owners to open up their books. The owners have, after much coercion, offered to reveal team-by-team profit/loss figures, but only to an independent auditor agreed upon by both sides. Did you catch that? The owners, in essence, provide some very hazy figures, the type which are easy to manipulate to showing larger or smaller profit, the type which large corporations massage all the time in order to maniuplate their quarterly statements. And then these numbers are not shown to the players, but rather to an independent auditor. Call me cynical, but it seems very, very difficult for the players to verify anything about the owners' revenue when there's several layers of smoke and mirrors.
It's really quite simple. If the owners really are in difficult straits, the players should be expected to give something up. But its difficult to figure that, in a time when revenues continue to increase, and the values of franchises continue to skyrocket, that owners really aren't making enough money. If the owners want to change the status quo on revenue sharing, they owe it to the players to prove that they are legitimately not doing well. I'm not going to have much sympathy for a cabal of 32 of the richest people in America until that happens.