By Chris Murray
For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and The Chris Murray Report
With the NFL lockout in full swing, that famed labor/management love fest that once existed for more than a decade between late NFL Players Association head Gene Upshaw and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is a relic of a distance past.
What has become abundantly clear is that current standoff between Roger Goddell and the owners and DeMaurice Smith and the now de-certified NFLPA is like a Nick Nolte line from the movie, 48 Hours: “We ain’t partners, we ain’t brothers and we ain’t friends.”
You would think that with the $9 billion in revenue that the NFL grossed in 2009 (and God knows what it took in for 2010) that they would be working together as business partners because pro football is by far the nation’s most popular sport. Two entities with those kind of (financial) mutual interests would be working together to maintain those interests in an ideal world.
However, the owners destroyed any notion of a “business” partnership with the players when they decided to scuttle the collective bargaining agreement (which was supposed to end in 2012, by the way) three three years ago. In 2008, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that the owners were going to lock the players out in 2011 to get a CBA favorable to the owners.
The owners want the players to give up some of the 50 percent of the total revenue that they now receive. As is stands right now, the owners already get a billion dollars off the top of that gross revenue and the difference is split 60-40 in the players favor. When you look at it in it’s totality, it’s a 50-50 split down the middle.
But Goddell and the owners are saying that they are losing money because of higher costs and that the split needs to change.
“Costs must be properly balanced against revenue so that the league and the game can continue to grow,” Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of public relations, recently wrote on ESPN.com. “Companies with far more revenue than the NFL have gone bankrupt because they did not properly manage their costs.”
Back in 2008, Upshaw said that he didn’t buy the owner’s “We’re in the poor house,” argument. He said the owners were making money in other areas not included in the revenue such as merchandising, parking and concession revenues.
“I don’t even know how they can go there,” Upshaw said in a 2008 conference call. “We have helped them build two stadiums (Cowboys Stadium and the new Giants Stadium).”
Upshaw wanted to see the owners books then and Smith and the players want to see some evidence of the owners’ struggles now. Players (and fans) want to know how can a league at the zenith of its popularity and making billions of dollars say that it is struggling with higher costs.
“If there is an economic justification for substantially moving backwards off of that 50 percent, let’s see what the economic justifications are,” Smith said when he visited Philadelphia last November.
“Our goal is transparency and we’re not there yet. I think transparency is good for us, it’s good for business partners. I think that a world where the players and the owners have an accurate and true picture of the business of football. That’s the way true business partners deal with each other.”
The owners, with the exception of the publicly-owned Green Bay Packers, are refusing to disclose their books to the players. Yet, they reportedly have $900 million in their war chest for a lockout they had been planning for the last three years.
Recently, a federal judge ruled that the NFL had violated its agreement with the players union, which asked that the TV money be placed in escrow in case of a lockout. The union had accused the NFL of failing to secure the maximum revenue possible when it renegotiated its deal with the networks.
The union contends, and Judge David Doty agreed, that the owners renegotiated the deal to get back money in the case of a lockout. If the ruling had gone in the owners’ favor the owners would have had over $400 billion in its lockout war chest.
In recent negotiations, Smith and the Players Association offered to give back a billion without the owners having to allow the players to look at the books. The owners turned it down and walked out of the negotiations.
The bottom line is that the owners, who have the ability to alter players contracts when it suits their bottom line or the salary cap, should act more like partners with the players and simply show where they are having problems financially.
But the owners are acting like the 500-pound gorillas that they are and are forgetting one fundamental thing: The players that you can buy, sell and discard like day old garbage, are the reason you’re able to enjoy those billions of dollars. Nobody comes out to the stadium to see Cowboys owner Jerry Jones play two-hand touch with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.
The owners also able to enjoy the comfort of luxury boxes because of the fans who pay exorbitant prices for tickets and spaces to tailgate.
To their credit, the players have not asked for any additional money in revenue and by de-certifying the union, they’re going to have to use the courts, which so far has been friendly to the players cause in curbing the overwhelming power of the NFL.
After all, it took a lawsuit by the players in 1993 to bring about free agency and the players are hoping that the current lawsuit, which includes the names of players like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will end this lockout.
In the aftermath of the union bashing that took place with the public employees in Wisconsin, I don’t have much sympathy for the greedy owners who refuse to be honest with their players or the general public, some of whom work for the stadiums and will lose jobs and income if this lockout extends into the season.
The prospect of losing $9 billion should be enough of an incentive for the owners to look at this as a partnership rather than a dictatorship.