The NFL Lockout: understanding the other side


The NFL owners have agreed, in principle, to end the lockout.  The players have yet to sign the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  It’s our nature to take the players’ side, because we cheer on the players on any given Sunday.  We also think we know the players to some degree.  We see the Manning brothers being interviewed, and we see their clean smiles, and they’re soft-spoken nature, and we identify with them in a relative manner.  Some have theorized that the owners ended the lockout to put the ball in the players’ court and gain some favorability in their court.

If they were stupid businessmen this would be their play, but they’re not stupid businessmen.  Now there may be a little bit of gamesmanship going on here, but owners do not want fans to hold grudges against these players for greedy actions.  They know what happened to baseball in 1998.  The owners of baseball tried to break the most powerful union in sports, the baseball players union, or the MLBPA, and the owners lost.  The result of this is that a great number of fans resented baseball players for going on strike and for the cancellation of games and the World Series.  The NFL owners don’t want you to resent the NFL players when Sunday rolls around and they want you to come out to the stadium again.

The message boards on NFL.com are already showing some fan resentment, but at this point it’s the typical resentment of fans believing that players should feel privileged to getting exorbitant amounts of money for playing a game.

Resentful fans do have to appreciate that this current CBA is a ten year agreement (with the players seeking an opt-out clause at seven years).  A lot of market factors can change in ten years, and the players want to make sure they are prepared for any market changes that can occur over a ten year period.  Resentful fans should also remember that the average football career is argued to be about 3.5 years.  So this CBA is roughly the span of nearly three careers.  The Hall of Fame game has been cancelled, but other than that fans won’t see a difference between this season and any other, as long as this disagreement ends soon.

Most people think players are overpaid for playing a game, yet who do we pay to watch?  Let’s say that the players won’t sign the agreement over a two percent dispute.  The players can argue that no one pays at the gate to catch a glimpse of the owner of the franchise.  They want to see the players play, so the players say that they have earned a greater percentage of the pie than the owners are willing to give.

In the final year of his playing career, Michael Jordan commanded a contract of $75 million for one year.  Most fans said no man is worth that much.  A study on the contract was done, and it found that Jordan had generated $500 million the previous year for the city of Chicago.  Prior to that year, Jordan took about $2 million a year.  He stated that he wanted the Bulls to spend the rest of the money building the team around him, so he was willing to take less than his market value for the privilege of playing on championship teams.  He also made enough in endorsements to make up for any money he may have lost at the bargaining table.  In his final year, he felt the team, and the city of Chicago, owed him more as a person a greater percentage of the pie that he had generated for them.  If he didn’t take it, where would it go?

As for the owners, I understand that they have a financial stake in the process, and I understand that they have the most to lose (financially) if the league were to go belly up.  But.  But, NFL owners work out an agreement with the various states and cities in which they decide to build a franchise.  The city usually passes some sort of tax on the city dwellers, a tax that is voted on by the city, and a stadium is built.  Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, may be the only owner in the NFL who owns the team, the stadium, and the concessions.  The Green Bay Packers are owned by the community, but what about teams like the Cincinnati Bengals, the Seattle Seahawks, and all the other teams that had city councils and city officials, and taxes passed on citizens to help pay for building the stadiums?  Do these owners have the financial risks that are equivalent to the physical risks the players face on the field?

There is a pie of revenue created by each game, each piece of marketing, and television contracts.  If a percentage of that money doesn’t go to the players, who does it go to?  I have no qualms with a player, or that player’s union, seeking the greatest possible percentage of the pie they can achieve.

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