As Aaron Rodgers was hoisting both a championship belt and the Lombardi Trophy last Sunday night I started to get the sinking feeling that this may be the last live NFL related moment I see for a very long while (not including the draft). With the March 3rd impending lockout date coming in about 3 weeks its time to start worrying that there may be no football, pick ‘em pools, suicide pools, fantasy drafts, casual gambling on Sunday games or anything else that brings joy and happiness into our lives every Sunday in the fall. I started this season in the camp of “There’s so much money these guys are going to figure this out” downgraded to “Well there’s a lot of posturing but no way they stop playing with the league being this successful” and now I’m down to “Holy S--- what the hell am I going to do without football next season!?”. Given my vested interest in keeping the NFL in my life I decided to spend the last week trying to figure out exactly what these million and billionaires are fighting over. I found that all of it can be figured out but not without rich people sacrificing a piece of the pot. Below are the key issues the Players Union and Owners hope to resolve in the next 3 weeks broken down into terms every fan can understand.
Before we get started here are the key figures in this scenario.
The NFL: I know this seems obvious but I mean the NFL Brass, namely NFL Owners. After all these are guys who oversee each of the 32 teams, think of them like CEO’s of the top 32 Fortune 500 companies, each person is responsible for the fiscal success of their “company” or in this case an NFL team. Naturally these guys feel most possessive over the money coming in because they are the ones who bought the team and put up all the financial risks involved with running one.
The NFLPA: Otherwise known as the players. The players feel that they are largely responsible for the league’s current unprecedented success; they are the “product” that we consumers love so much. For example I am a Patriots fan and while I admire Bob Kraft, I’m much more likely to buy a Tom Brady jersey. The players are the employees of the owners, but help keep the owner rich. Think of them as the disgruntled employee in your office who feels as though without him or her the whole ship would start sinking.
Money / Revenue Sharing
As mentioned the Owners are the guys who help finance this league, without owners stadiums aren’t built, checks aren’t signed and day to day football operations (like running a stadium full of food, beer, merchandise and other vendors) aren’t available. Without an owner there is no team, this being the case the owners feels like they should have the biggest slice of the enormous revenue pie the NFL generates. The owners feel that players association doesn’t understand that running an NFL team is much harder than it looks. Stadiums don’t pay for themselves and while it seems the NFL is printing money at this point the owners are saying that the profits are not as high as we may think thanks to a down economy which leads to less ticket and merchandise sales.
The last time labor issues emerged the NFL reached and agreement that pays the players roughly 60% of the total revenue generated by the NFL (8 or 9 billion depending on what reports your read). This agreement was reached in 2006 and the owners now want to scale that back so they are seeing the majority percentage of the pot. One key note here is that the players will tell you that they have no problem with the current 60/40 agreement in place (gee I wonder why that is?) and would be happy to re-up the current collective bargaining agreement and keep on playing as things are.
Working World Application: Alright so say you work at a wildly successful company worth well over a billion dollars. The company’s success is largely generated by the output of its employees, the better the employees are the more successful the company is going to be. As a hard working employee of this company do you feel that you and your colleagues should be most handsomely rewarded for your output?
Conversely, if you owned this wildly successful company do you think that because you are the one who put up all the financial risk regarding your company’s success you should be the one who has the most amount of zeros next to your name? Keep in mind you aren’t responsible for the output that makes your company so very successful, you just oversee the product.
If you can find a fair answer to the above questions please let Roger Goodell know about it as soon as humanly possible (preferably before the beginning of March).
*Note the rest of the issues will be resolved if they get the money thing figured out, no one is going to lockout players because of a rookie wage scale…it’s always about the money, always.*
18 Game Seasons
As the 9 billion dollar question is answered this will be a key bargaining chip in the negotiations. Going back to the owners, 2 more regular season games per season will give them 2 more chances to rake in revenue on tickets, merchandise and concessions sales at their stadiums. Quite simply: More games = More money brought in. Here’s the problem with this one, the owners are asking the players to take less money and potentially play more games.
Working World Application:
You are an employee at a billion dollar company whose success is contingent upon you and your colleagues work. The boss suddenly announces that you all have to work 2 extra days each month but everyone’s salary may go down. How does this make you feel? More work, less pay…that is what the owners want as of February 11, 2011.
Further muddying the waters was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s midseason focus on player safety. Goodell announced there would be stricter fines and potential suspensions for players who purposely endangered another player’s safety while making a play (as to be judged by the league office). Yet Goodell is a big believer in an 18 game season (more money for him as well…it’s always about the money) yet wants the NFL to be safer. The players see this as the height of hypocrisy…"You want us to be safer yet your adding MORE chances to get hurt every season?"
Ultimately the players should be able to use the 18 game chip in their favor. In fact they can use the exact same argument the owners are using with the revenue sharing. With revenue the owners feel like they are the ones taking all the risk yet seeing less of the reward. Adding two games to an already brutal NFL schedule means the players are taking on more risks which should mean more money for them. If an 18 game season is put into play look for players salaries to reflect that change.
Rookie Wage Scale
Perhaps the easiest fix of all the issues…guess what this one is about. Go ahead…waiting...waiting...do you give up? MONEY! It’s all about the money. With the current rookie wage scale the NFL owners are forced to pay some of the highest salaries on the team to players who have yet to play a down in the NFL. For example Rams rookie QB Sam Bradford signed a contract higher than Peyton Manning’s before taking his first NFL snap. It makes no sense.
Working World Application:
Again you are working at a wildly successful company and you have been there 10 years. By any measurable statistic the company uses you are one of top employees in the company. This being the case the guy who just graduated college and is starting his first job is going to be making more than you over the first 5 years of his employment. How does this make you feel?
Conversely, you are the owner of a billion dollar company. Your most valued assets are employees that have been there for over 5 years. In order to hire new people you are forced to pay unproven, inexperienced employees more money than the people who have been with your company the longest amount of time. Does this make any sense at all?
This will certainly be the easiest fix, I don’t want to live in a world where Cam Newton makes more money than Tom Brady to help with his Dad's church repairs.
There are smaller issues such as player fines on the table as well. The next big move will either come before March 3 (when the current CBA expires) when an agreement is reached (not likely) or after March 3 if the owners lock out the players the Players Union can decertify and sue the league in federal courts. This would make a bad situation horribly worse (think employee/boss analogies – imagine if your boss stopped paying you, you sued, won or lost the case and then returned to work for the same person…awkward!). The bottom line is it comes down to the bottom line, who is willing to give up most yet still walk away sort of satisfied with the new agreement? Just know that this is about money, the NFL and its owners will tell you it’s about progressing the league and making a good game great but it’s about money and who deserves more. I just hope the rich getting richer doesn’t cost us a football season.