Greed is a disease that has no cure. It manifests itself in the form of an insatiable appetite incapable of satisfaction. It expands, never contracts. It infects the mind, decays the soul and distorts reality. In the case of the NFL collective bargaining debacle, its ultimate victim will be the integrity of the sport we love and the fans who built it.
There was a time when baseball was our nations past time. Americans seemingly couldn’t get enough. Stars were born, legends were made and dynasties were built. But that all changed. As much as I still love the game itself, Major League Baseball is a shadow of its once mighty self.
We speak of our transformation from a baseball to football nation as if it were some phenomenon, but it’s not. The transformation came as a cause and effect, not an evolutionary shift in American culture. Overall, the shift from one sport to the other was driven by greed, not magic. The collective hierarchy of player unions and owners unwilling to compromise spelled its fall from grace. A system was set up to ensure that a handful of teams are always elite and a laughable revenue sharing clause to create the illusion that the remaining clubs can stay competitive.
Those who defend the system enthusiastically point out the handful of small market teams who manage to compete despite the obvious and ridiculous disadvantages that face them. These arguments fall on deaf ears. Instead, direct your energy to the debate of which small market “farm team” you can pillage of unsignable free agents before the trading deadline. There is no hypocrisy in numbers and Neilson will tell you, Major League Baseball has become a second rate flick. Ratings seemingly always down from the year before and fans from coast to coast marginalized and uninterested.
But let’s dig deeper at the core of the problem.
Would anyone question the loyalty and passion of Pittsburgh fans? No. Never. However, nobody cares about the Pirates. The Cleveland Browns fill their stadium every week to capacity and haven’t won a playoff game since 1994. The Indians are lucky to get 10,000 to show up on any given night despite seven division titles and two World Series appearances over that same time frame. Cleveland fans are as passionate as they come. People mistakenly think of Cleveland fans as only being football minded. It’s hard to convince me as a person who lived there during their magical decade run replete with a then MLB record 455 consecutive sellouts. Yet oddly enough, today nobody cares about the Indians anymore.
What separates the National Football League from Major League Baseball is the element of hope. A soon-to-be extinct salary cap system that allows the city of Green Bay and their 102,000 residents to watch their beloved Packers compete annually with the Giants and a population nearly a hundred times larger in New York. It keeps fans showing up in places like Cleveland because despite the years of losing, every August we are rejuvenated with possibility. Anticipation builds every off-season as we follow the Browns through the draft and free agency. With a legitimate opportunity to sign players in an economically balanced environment, activity is certain and excitement is born. The system of achieving a relatively balanced financial equilibrium between all franchises results in the desired elements of suspense filled unpredictable outcomes to games and seasons.
The NFL system as it has operated for the past two decades works. More people watched the NFL Draft than the NBA Finals or MLB Divisional Playoffs last season. Without a single snap of live action the draft is able to captivate its audience and keep them tuned in and the reason is clear. In essence, draft day encompasses the hope and possibility needed to keep fans captivated and interested. It’s unpredictable. Anything can happen. A dynasty could be born from a single draft pick on a team that hasn’t been good for twenty years. This isn’t conceptual. The system works, and has for some time. It keeps fans interested across the country and has delivered record television ratings year after year. Unfortunately it is this revenue that drives the monster of greed and it's the players who wrongly feel their talent alone is responsible for it's success. I however see them simply as a cog, directing a majority of the leagues success to the above mentioned system.
Baseball is flawed by its predictability. This predictability is driven through outrageous monetary gaps and inconsistencies in team payrolls across the league which result in talent discrepancies so drastic (and laughable) that predicting a contender from a losing team is relatively easy. But how is that enjoyable or fun? I guess it's enjoyable if the team you root for happens to be part of the ruling monarchy. If you are a fan of any other team however, that signs no free agents, trades their star players for 18 year old prospects please explain why anyone would support that?
In Cleveland, we watched for a decade as our Indians struggled to identify a single solitary consistent pitcher to match their perennial championship caliber offense. One game away from the World Series in 2007, I was feeling optimistic about the future. Instead, the team proceeded to trade away back to back Cy Young award winners for absolutely nothing in return.
That is the moment I threw in the towel.
Why in the World would I continue to support a team who, regardless of unfavorable market conditions, doesn't even attempt to field a competitive team? I mean they don't even try. Lots of teams don't. This is the model which in a nutshell has eroded the nations passion for the game from coast to coast to a few select cities. With outcomes seemingly orchestrated months earlier, we watch the same handful of teams on their runaway bids to overspend for free agents. The bidders and auctioneers ever familiar, same exact teams stuck in polar opposite perpetual cycles of winning and losing. The same dog and pony show every year, with everyone getting rich at the expense of the fans in twenty markets who no longer care.
Enter the NFL which rescued us all and became our new past time by recognizing an opportunity and creating a system that kept every fan interested. As it stands today, both owner and player union representatives have heavy fingers which appear stuck on course for a self-destruct button that can only be pressed through blind greed.
When it comes to the bantering, I choose no side. I chose the future. I chose the fans.
The owners won’t back down despite reaping the revenue benefits of subsidized stadiums funded by taxpayers in an era where state budgets are insolvent. The players don’t seem to get it either. Union officials claim its members deserve more revenue because they have limited years of earning potential and act as the commodity that delivers the ratings and wealth to the owners. Wait, didnt most of these guys go to college for free? Did I miss the part where they gave a valid reason why a player who leaves the league can’t go get a job like everyone else after their career ends?
It would be wise for them to realize we aren’t listening.
Why would we? I wonder if they believe we actually buy their feeble attempts at victimization when it comes to swapping preseason games with two additional regular season games? The players refusal is based on an increased exposure to injury being adequately compensated. Oh the humanity. Oh the horror... I guarantee that if you look up an actuary chart, the average American is subjected to more danger by driving to and from work 300 times a year than NFL players are in their 64 hour seasons.
The average American who has a job is working to make someone else rich. Whoever the CEO or owner at your company of employment, we all work for a minuscule monetary compensation in comparison to the revenue we help generate. That’s not called victim, that’s called reality. If you want to change it, go get yourself a billion dollars and buy the company you work for or franchise for which you play. Until then, quit complaining and start negotiating. It would benefit them perhaps to admit they have a perception problem by not realizing how good they have it. In a time when our economy has crumbled to the verge of collapse, maybe a little self reflection and realization will help them advance a few steps on the whole twelve step recovery process by admitting they don't have a clue about the reality of what Americans face in the challenges of finding a sustainable career path in our current economic times.
the consequence of the current inaction is very clear and real. If left unresolved, we have a lock out. If a salary cap is not negotiated all it’s going to take is one outrageous contract before the “pay me what you paid him” disease spreads through the league as it did baseball after the now infamous Alex Rodriguez half a billion dollar contract. Salaries will balloon, market principles will come into play and half the leagues markets will be left unable to compete. The victim will ultimately be the hard working group of Americans who simply love football and unknowingly erected the pillars of ego that the players now stand upon. These pillars are not eternal. If the fans are neglected, they will crumble and with them the sport, into the oblivion of disinterest that is Major League Baseball.