Uncertain Future

The NFL’s labor issue was something that I had initially wanted to stay away from. The topic has and will continue to be beaten into the ground. Also, I am in no way informed enough to really break down the issues that plague the owners and the players. However, with a possible lockout of the players being only two days away and the recent court decision that was made that definitely favors the players, I finally balked and decided I wanted to speak my peace.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) officially ends on March 4th. The options with the deadline are either that the owner’s lock the players out, the CBA is extended, the players decertify(not really sure how this would play out), or both sides decide on a resolution to this mess and we can focus on the draft and the coming season. Since there is pretty much only a 0.05% chance that both sides will come to an agreement by Friday, we are looking at either a lockout or extension.

It’s to early for a lockout. I don’t believe the owner’s will take that step this early in the process. So that means extension of the current CBA. So that’s good news right? Wrong. All that really means is the owner’s are delaying the lockout. It’s coming. As sure as Summer will be here before we know it. The simple reason I believe this is because of the ego’s and greed that are involved in this current mess.

Like I said, I would be lying if I sat here and tried to tell you I knew the in’s and out’s of what was going on with the labor issue. As I see it, it comes down to the owner’s think the players are making too much money and want a larger slice of the pie than they currently have. The basic premise of how the business side of the NFL works is that the players and owners share the revenue made by the product they sell. When the current CBA was signed, the players got a larger slice of that pie. Now it is time for retribution.

 The entire reason why unions were formed was because the workers were tired of getting hosed by the owner’s and management. Most industries that have unions (steel workers, auto workers, etc) had at one point in time deplorable working conditions and got paid scraps. Look at the steel worker’s in particular. Back in early to mid 1900’s, these guys worked in mills where the temperature hovered above 100 degrees. They inhaled all kinds of fumes that floated in the air. There was always a chance of not only hearing loss, but being burned and a very serious chance of either losing a limb or dying. The men who walked out of those gates every day after working 12 hour sifts were beaten down and exhausted. And for all their hard work, sacrifice, and risk of life and limb, the money they made was barely enough to cover their living expenses.

Management didn’t care. They were in the business for one reason and one reason only, to make as much money as possible. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by creating a product that everyone needs and wants, selling a ton of it, and producing this product with as little expense as possible. This is all obviously very common sense. The only issue with management’s style was that the workers were getting sick of it. They were tired of working long and hard hours and getting paid as little as possible. Their solution was to band together and demand a better work environment and higher pay. If they didn’t get what they wanted then they would strike.

The history of unions in this country is a long and a bloody one. At times they have gotten out of control but you can’t argue with the fact that they helped paved the way for a better life for the generations of people who have come after them. The NFL players formed a union in 1956. However, the basically had zero power. That is until 1968 when they finally pushed for a new CBA. Since then the NFLPA has grown in size and strength. They have fought for many important steps in what has made the NFL what it is today, like free agency.

Just like any other union, the players have decided to strike on a couple of occasions. However, there hasn’t been a strike or lockout since 1987. This is incredibly impressive considering that every other professional sports league in the US has had a work stoppage that have forced the leagues to miss playing their championships. The fact that the NFL has avoided a strike or lockout is one of the contributing factors in why the league has grown in popularity.

 In 1994, Major League Baseball players decided to strike. It was the eight work stoppage in league history and it did unbelievable harm to the league as a whole. It turned off a lot of fans who were mad that these guys, who were making millions of dollars, when they decided they weren’t making enough money. They took the sport away from the fans and you can argue that the league has never been the same. What was once considered America’s pastime has now been replaced by football.

Which is the reason why I am having trouble figuring out how the owner’s could be stupid enough to ruin a great thing. The general rule is that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and the NFL ain’t broke. It is not only the most successful sports league but it is one of the most successful business’s in America. They increase their market share and revenue every year. Take a look at the television ratings for a Sunday and Monday night game. They are off the charts. With the ever-increasing access that the internet provides and the growing popularity of fantasy football, the NFL has become a giant in the world of sports and entertainment. If the NHL is David, then the NFL is Goliath on steroids (that may have not been the best analogy or metaphor or whatever that is considered).

The owner’s have claimed that they are losing money. I will buy the fact that aren’t making as much money as they want to but I think it’s total BS that they are actually losing money. The players want the owner’s to open up their books and prove this but for many reasons the owner’s aren’t willing to do this, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If you are losing money and want to take money away from the players to help stabilize the company and keep it going then prove it. This feels like the owner’s are crying wolf. While I’m sure they aren’t making as much money as they once were, don’t go saying you are losing money. The Green Bay Packers, who are the only publicly held company in sports reported an operating profit of $9.8 million dollars. Now this is actually down from the previous year in which they reported a profit of $20.1 million the previous year. The reason, the Packers say, is because of increasing player costs.

This is where I can sort of see the owner’s point, although I  think they have presented it in a bad way. To you and me, $9.8 millions dollars is a ton of money, but in the grand scheme of business, this isn’t that impressive of a return on an investment and we need to be honest with ourselves, this is a business. Jerry Jones and Pat Bowlen don’t buy teams to win. They buy teams to make money. Winning just helps to bring in more money. I’m sure some of the small market teams are in fact losing money. If the Packers “only” made $9.8 million, then teams like the Jaguars or Panthers are sure to be either barely staying in the black or are dipping into the red.

The owner’s may end up feeling like the best way for them to get their point across is to lock out the players. Yesterday, I thought for sure that this was going to happen. I didn’t think the players would bend too much and give back money and the owner’s weren’t going to stand for that. I mean, the players have a lot more to lose. The owner’s are wealthy and they are going to continue to be wealthy. The players are rich and considering somehow a lot of these guys manage to actually live paycheck to paycheck, missing those bonuses and game checks could be really costly. However, the promising development occurred that may push the owner’s to make a deal. The courts ruled that the owner’s could not collect the television money from the networks in the case of a lockout.

Profootballtalk.com does a great job of breaking down the ruling (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2011/03/02/in-hindsight-dotys-ruling-was-a-no-brainer/#more-114582) which unless you are a University of Duquesne law student, reading and interpreting the actual language in the ruling can be confusing. Basically, the ruling says that the owner’s left money on the table in order for a “take it or leave it” deal that guaranteed that the owner’s would still get money from the networks in case of the lockout in which they only had to pay about half of it back. The reason this was a no-no, was because the players union expects the owner’s to make the best possible deal for both parties and the owner’s actually accepted less money to get the deal they wanted. This means that the owner’s won’t be getting the money they were hoping for to help pay the bills since they won’t be making any money for playing football.

The crappy thing about all of this, and the difference between the strike in baseball and a possible lockout in football, is that a lockout won’t change anything. When the baseball players decided to strike, baseball was on a bit of a down turn at the time. People were already starting to fade a little and a strike which ended up cancelling the World Series pushed fans over the edge. They were angry and in anger they decided that if the powers that be didn’t care about them, then they could turn away from the powers. We heard about a lot of people who stopped following baseball, even if just for a season. That’s not going to happen with football. Right now football is at its apex of strength. Sure, we are all going to be mad if there isn’t any football come fall. We will huff and puff and throw a tantrum but the second that the kickers foot makes contact with the football at the start of a real game then we all will be back. Some my hold out longer, but eventually we will all be back. The players and owners understand this. For a lot of us, football is like a drug, it’s hard to live without.

Friday is going to come and go and we will be no closer to a resolution. At this point, nothing is really at stake. There is no need for any urgency. We are still over a month away from the draft and several months away from the start of training camp. At this point the only ones who will really suffer are the either the young teams or teams with new coaching staffs. They won’t be able to work together and get ready to prepare for a new season. So not only is there uncertainty for us as fans, but there is high level of uncertainty for the players and coaches.

No matter what, the show will go on. We may miss some games but I’m fully convinced that there will be football next season. There is to much at stake not to get a deal worked out and get the season under way. In this situation, I may have to side more with the players. I understand they are trying to get as much money as they can. Their careers are short and full of danger. With no guaranteed contracts, one bad hit and that could be it. Peyton Manning may be able to play for 20 years, but the Colts will be around much longer. The owner’s need to understand that they have such a good thing going. All they need to do is look at the other major sports leagues to realize how good they have it. I just hope they take that look before we start losing games.


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