February is supposed to be the time of the year in the NFL where one team and its fans are deliriously happy celebrating their Super Bowl victory. Instead this year, barely any of us can even remember who actually won the game because all the talk and media coverage is about the labor dispute that threatens to cancel the 2011 NFL Season.
Is anyone else as annoyed as I am about hearing about it? Listening to the owners and players whining about their “situations” is sickening. A fight between some of the richest people in the United States bickering over how to slice up roughly $9 billion worth of revenues at a time when a good number of people are struggling to feed their families is disheartening.
The owners claim the game’s revenues have slid too far into the players’ salaries and want to take back a significant percentage of it. They argue that expenses, mostly costs related to the new palaces they’ve built and called stadiums, have hurt their bottom lines and they can no longer afford to continue in this environment. (And you know it’s true when there isn’t a single new stadium on the horizon for any of the league’s 32 teams, some might argue.) Players say they are comfortable with the current financial landscape of the NFL, but have issues with health-care, long-term care and retirement planning (Gee, don’t we all?).
Typically during labor disputes involving professional sports leagues I have tended to side with the players. Maybe that’s because despite their salaries they truly are the “little guys” in the situation and I like the underdogs. Or maybe it’s easier seeing myself in their shoes rather than the owners. After all, it is easier to become a professional athlete; all it takes is talent, hard work and dedication. Becoming an owner typically involves DNA—being born in the right family that already has the wealth and/or ownership.
Anyway, this time I have no sympathy for the players. At first I had sided with them, hearing the owners expectations, their threats of a lockout and a canceled season, and the fact that they negotiated their most recent national television contract that stipulates the receive their money regardless of whether games are played. But no longer do I support the players. And don’t get me wrong, I have no sympathy for the owners either.
The only ones who loses in this situation are the fans, the ones who pay and provide the enormous salaries for all those involved. Most of the owners are billionaires. A substantial number of the players are millionaires, and those who are not are more well-off than most of the population. How could anyone have sympathy for either side.
Nine Billion Dollars!! That is more than enough money to go around and make everyone happy. $9 billion dollars is like winning Mega Millions at it’s all-time high of nearly $400 million a couple of months back 25 Times Over!! That’s enough to make millionaires out of 9,000 people!! And yet it’s still not enough money to make the top one percent in this country happy. They need more.
Reportedly the owners have asked for one of two things to start off negotiations. They either wanted to substantially reduce the percentage of revenues the players receive or they want to take more off the top (an extra $1 Billion) before splitting it with the players. Either way it adds up to about the same money. In addition the owners are also seeking a rookie wage scale (something that is needed, as too many rookies are getting more guaranteed money than established players, which is unfair), and to expand the season to 18 games.
I am not, nor will I ever be, an NFL owner so I do not fully understand or know what it costs to operate a professional football team. However from what I have seen it is extremely rare than an NFL owner loses money with his franchise. According to numerous reports they generate enormous income and I cannot recall a team being sold for less than it was purchased for. There is money to be made in the NFL.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has not helped matters either. In press conferences explaining the labor strife, he has lost serious points for the NFL. Teams claim they are not financially able to continue, yet refuse to open their books to the other side of the table, much less the public eye. Goodell has called the request for full disclosure a “negotiating ploy.” And when asked why the emphasis for a longer season when the players clearly are not in favor of it Goodell responds that it would give fans a better experience of 18 competitive and two preseason games rather than the current format of 16 and four. Goodell sidesteps the question about simply alleviating the fans pain by cutting prices to preseason games.
Players are not helping themselves either. I have read various reports they are worried about losing health coverage—somewhere I read some players wives are inducing labor early so they’re still covered (as a father of a premature baby that sickens me—and fearful of what they’re going to do. A lot of people have lost health coverage in the last few years. You deal. You pay out of pocket for Cobra extensions, you take a lower-paying job (I hear Starbucks offers great health benefits) or you negotiate with your union, the NFLPA in this case, and have them start controlling the healthcare plan. That would give the players an even stronger bargaining position with the league.
The most damning evidence to find the players in contempt is their attitude about playing in the NFL. They claim their careers are too short (3.6 years on average), that it is a difficult, demanding job that can be detrimental to one’s long-term health. However the last time I checked there is a huge difference between being drafted by an NFL team and getting drafted by the U.S. Military; you don’t have to show up and take the beating in the NFL if you choose not to, it is a choice. Deal with making that choice. And how many years would it take to make an NFL player’s salary for those 3.6 years? Well, based on today's numbers that NFL player would stand to make roughly $1.5 million dollars, making the NFL minimum (which goes up every year you have in the league) each year. A teacher working in the New York suburbs (some of the best paying districts in the country) stands to earn a starting salary of around $55,000 with a master’s degree. Maxing out your education (going beyond your graduate degree) and after ten years, that teacher will max out their salary around $125,000. To earn $1.5 million dollars that teacher will have to work for about 17 years to earn what an NFL player does in the average career of 3.6 years.
Anyone feeling pity for these players yet?
All in all I am disgusted with the NFL. It has sickened me to the point that I’m not sure I can renew my NFL Sunday Ticket next year in good conscience, even if there is a season. When a league that generates $9 Billion Dollars every year in revenues cannot find a way to split it up so everyone is happy it is sad. Everyone involved wants more and the only people who are going to suffer are the fans. Greed, despite what Gordon Gekko said, is not always good.