By Ed Kilgore
Although I'd really just like to have somebody wake me up when the NFL owners and players finally reach a deal to figure out how to distribute $9 billion a year in revenue, it is part of my job description to pay attention. At least I'm not forced to PAY, like the fans who have to watch the worthless rhetoric coming from both sides about how neither side really wants to "do what it takes" to get a new CBA.
At least they are now talking face to face again as this is being written, which is the only way a new CBA will come about, since a court can't ultimately do what it takes to make both sides think they gave up a little too much, which is where they'll be when they finally reach an agreement. For the record, I do think that will eventually happen.
Human nature is part of the problem here. NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith, no matter how good he thinks the owner's latest offer might be, can't make it look like he's jumping at their first suggestion. He wants to keep his very lucrative job, and that won't happen if there's the perception he "lost" in this negotiation.
He will eventually "lose", in terms of comparing the new deal to the CBA the owners just allowed to expire, because the owners simply couldn't live with that deal. Bills owner Ralph Wilson, you'll recall, was one of only two NFL owners to say they'd just agreed to a "terrible deal", and he was quietly laughed at as a senile old man who had lost touch with today's NFL economics.
No he hadn't, as it turns out, but I haven't seen anybody thanking him recently.
The owners will eventually get some concessions, because they have all the leverage. They're rich men who are willing to sacrifice an entire season if that's what it takes for them to lower or at least slow down rising costs in order to increase their revenue. They probably realize by now they won't get their 18-game season because the players seem to be pretty solidly against it. They've already backed off their figure of another billion dollars off the top of the estimated $9 billion in revenue per season to be spent on stadium improvements and marketing, and some sources think that figure is down from that wishful figure by a considerable amount.
The owners do seem to "get it" that the game must be tinkered with a touch to reduce the rising number of injuries, while not taking away the violent high speed crashes that make the game so popular. That's why they've already moved the kickoff up to the 35-yard line from the 30, which many fans are already complaining about, because such a high percentage of injuries come from kickoff returns. But there isn't a more exciting play in the game than a 98 yard return for a touchdown, and the number of those types of "home runs" has been increasing yearly. The numbers of game-breaking returns is now certain to be reduced because there will be many more touchbacks.
The owners, by and large, knew this thing was headed for a lockout all along, and don't for a minute think they were thrown for a loss by Judge Doty's ruling they can't hang on to their $4 billion nest egg from the tv networks to tide them over through these tough times. They've been ready for this for awhile now, and unlike many players who still, for some unknown reason live paycheck to paycheck, won't miss a single nice vacation or expensive dinner.
The owners want a "partnership", but they don't want the players to see their books. I think some owners don't want other OWNERS to see their books, that's what I think, and if the current face to face meetings don't make significant progress, we could go back through a long and convoluted legal process that will wind up with many billable hours - at least SOMEBODY will make money out of this thing - they may have to open the books anyway.
Lest you think I'm blaming the owners here, I actually blame the players "union" more for doing the more combative public negotiating. Then again, they ARE players, and they think of this as an athletic contest only the winner gets even more money. How ironic is it that the union "decertifies", which means they aren't really a union, and now they have plans to have their own draft party opposite the NFL's annual event in New York City on draft day. Talk about "team" players! The NFL Draft has become a HUGE pr plus for the league and ultimately helps the players just as much as the owners. It's also a dream come true for many of these players and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Do the players have ANYBODY in there that can't see this? Guess I just answered my own question.
Already many fans are being turned off by the fantastic numbers they keep hearing and reading about - the increasing revenues and salaries that are so out of step with what's happening in the "real" world.
It's estimated that EACH NFL city will lose $160 million if the players are locked out in 2011, and even if that's a generous estimate, you get the point. It's also estimated over 115,000 jobs will be effected. Many NFL teams, including the Bills, have already given across the board pay cuts to everybody from the head coach to the scouting staff secretaries.
In a perfect world, BOTH sides would realize this $9 billion a year in revenue can continue growing if you don't TOTALLY alienate ALL the fans, which means more for the players AND owners, so why not try to give at least a little something back to the fans who continue to overpay for the product? Charge less for the pre season games, for instance. Even put ticket prices on hold for a couple years, 'cause all the other revenues are going up anyway, and maybe, who knows, attendance may increase enough to actually make up the difference! The good will gesture alone would be priceless.
Maybe they could even come up with a stock option plan like other corporations, where players would sign for fixed dollars so teams could plan their budgets, and then if the overall revenue increases, the owners will be only too happy to share the winnings. If the revenue does NOT go up, the players don't lose a thing. No big deal for the owners, because they take most the risk in this business partnership anyway, at least financially.
Oh, they'll eventually get this deal done in time for a full season and maybe even training camps, but listening to the details of the negotiations make it pretty tough to pull for either side; they BOTH come out of it looking like their greed far exceeds their concern about the people who ultimately pay those salaries - the fans.