Enjoy This Season of Football NFL Fans, Next Year's Lockout Is Almost Here

TJ SandersContributor IOctober 12, 2010

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - FEBRUARY 04:  DeMaurice Smith, NFL Player's Association Executive Director, speaks to members of the media during the NFL Player's Association Press Conference held at the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center as part of media week for Super Bowl XLIV on February 4, 2010 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

Die-hard football fans need only to glance at the title of this article to know exactly what I am going to write about. The inspiration behind this article was created for one simple purpose; to educate the average or "bandwagon" football fan that the NFL is heading towards an unfortunate route that many die-hard fans of the NHL felt just a few short years ago-the lockout of an entire season.

To give a simple explanation, the NFL (and most other professional sports) require a labor agreement between the teams' owners and the players association. When both sides agree from everything ranging from the amount of games to be played per season to what each player is paid, there is a contract in place (not unlike monetary contracts signed by professional athletes). 

Obviously with time, these contracts expire. The current labor agreement that the NFL owners and the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) are under contract is set to expire at the end of the current 2010 season.

Just this past February, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti made public that many NFL owners are facing difficulties trying to stay profitable and as a result, is one of several factors that could ultimately result in a lockout.

"I've got partners out there right now whose teams are making less money than their linebackers. I think we've got an acute problem here with the general profitability of the teams," Bisciotti said. "We always knew this was not a big cash-flow business, but when you've got guys like Jacksonville tarping up 10,000 seats to stop blackouts, when you've got teams that are voluntarily staying at the minimum of what they have to spend on the salary cap in order to not go upside down financially, then we already have a structural problem.

"That puts us in the unenviable position of this thing ending in a lockout as opposed to a strike," he said. "There's no cash flow. If we don't get this thing back to the point that teams have enough cash flow ... then there's long-term problem for the league. We're going to have to address that."

While it is interesting to note that several markets are struggling to make ends meet, the bigger problem that the NFL faces is that the owners are trying to not only have the players make less money in the next collective bargaining agreement (CBA), but they are also trying to enforce a stricter payroll for rookies. 

In comparison (and quite possibly what the NFL is looking at in terms of a scale to base their proposal on), when you look at the NBA, rookies don't make more than $5 million in their first season. This past offseason, St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford got almost $50 million in guaranteed money just to sign a contract with the Rams. Obviously the pay scale in the NBA and NFL are different, but it is certainly interesting to note the wide disparity.

Also back in February was the words of NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith that rang loud and clear in the sports world when asked by Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco whether a lockout was even possible for 2011.

"On a scale of 1 to 10," Smith said Thursday, "it's a 14."

At the NFLPA's annual address to media reporters, Smith said that the NFL is asking for too much money back from players in collective bargaining negotiations for the new CBA. 

"They're asking us to give 18 percent back," Smith said. 

Smith also disagrees with Bisciotti's claims that the NFL and its teams really are losing money like they claim. Smith points to a Forbes magazine report that he said pegged the average profit margin for NFL teams at around $31 million. 

He states that the players already give about $1 billion in revenue to owners that is not part of the pool teams share with players. So the union will not consider reducing its total share of revenues without seeing evidence that profit margins are in peril.

An interesting thing to take note in this whole situation is that Smith has also made claims that the NFL and its owners have been preparing for a 2011 lockout for several years by insulating themselves with TV contracts that pay off even without games and coaches contracts that protect them if games are not played. He states that the NFL would receive $5 billion from its network television deals even if no games are played in 2011. He regarded that as proof owners are preparing for a lockout.

Smith said, "The simple fact is they have engaged in a concerted course of conduct where anybody looking at it will see that they have done more to prepare themselves to not play football than to play football.

"On the one hand, you have a collective bargaining process that is designed to have two equal parties negotiating over issues. On that side you have concerted action designed to severely restrict and critically enhance your bargaining leverage."

Smith continued, "The first data point, you hire the guy who orchestrated the hockey lockout in 2007," Smith said citing the March 10, 2008 hiring of attorney Bob Batterman. He was the lawyer who represented the NHL during the longest work stoppage in sports, for outside counsel for labor.

"In 2008, 2009, you negotiate television contracts that pay the teams even if the games aren't played," Smith said. "You renegotiate coaches contracts envisioning a lockout.

"And you are arguing in front of the United States Supreme Court that the anti-trust laws should no longer apply to you. What does that sound like to you?"

Quite an interesting take if it is indeed true that the NFL is already setting itself up to prepare for a season of no football.

The timing of Smith's comments was back in February-before it was officially decided that the NFL would enter the 2010 NFL season as an uncapped season, meaning that there is no salary cap or salary floor between which teams must operate. 

Smith reiterated a point made by his late predecessor, Gene Upshaw, saying that if the cap goes away, it's not likely to come back.

"I think it's virtually impossible to go back if we go through an uncapped year."

Also during this time was Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who went on record saying that he would push for the elimination or severe reduction of revenue sharing for the new CBA.

"Right now we are subsidizing this market ("this market" referring to the Vikings owner Zigi's Wilf's attempts at getting a new stadium built for the Vikings in Minnesota)," Jones said. "It's unthinkable to think that you've got the market you've got here, with 3.5 million people, and have teams like Kansas City and Green Bay subsidizing this market. That will stop. That's going to stop. That's called revenue sharing. That's on its way out."

Being a current Minnesota resident, I can tell you that is a hot topic of debate in our state in which the Vikings and its ownership are pushing hard to get a new stadium built. 

"I realize it's a difficult and complex problem," Wilf said in an interview with NFL.com. "The most important thing is we bring everyone together to try to find a solution."

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones received public help to build his football palace, and he said a public-private partnership is essential to make it work.

"The leadership have got to recognize that you cannot build one unless you have contributions," Jones said. "You've got to have some help from the public. You've got to have some help from your fans. And you've got to be willing to make a big commitment financially. The Wilfs are doing that."

Zygi Wilf has never threatened to move the team, but Jones said revenue sharing likely will decrease significantly, if not disappear altogether, when the collective bargaining agreement expires after this season. That means the Vikings would be at a huge financial disadvantage unless they can have a new, revenue-producing stadium built -- one that likely would, Jones said, bring a Super Bowl and other major events to the Twin Cities, just as Cowboys Stadium has done for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Unfortunately, with owners taking a strict stance in what they want and think is important, you have the NFLPA pointing it's fingers right back at the NFL and its owners blaming them for taking away some salary for a reason they don't even think is factual while they also of course don't want to be making less money.

It is a very bleak and painful picture when the average fan takes a step back and looks at how the NFLPA and its owners are playing the blame game. It is something that die-hard NHL fans like myself notice right away as this is nearly an exact replay of the finger-pointing and blame games we all watched right before we all lost an entire year of hockey.

The lockout to the NHL and its fans during the 2004-2005 season while unfortunate would pale in comparison to the monumental and devastating effect that is almost certain to impact the NFL in only a short five months.

While I personally have lost my interest in the NFL over the past several years, that in no way means that I, as a sports fan, want to see the NFL lose an entire year of football. I know exactly how painful it was for me as a die-hard hockey fan to not watch professional hockey an entire season and it is something that I do not wish upon any sports fan.

Because of the popularity of the NFL, I can hardly imagine what it will be like when die-hard football fans can't tune into our local FOX or CBS channel to catch their favorite football teams one year from now.