Saturday, March 12, 2011


A lot of folks appear happy that the charade and posturing is finally over and the NFL owners have finally locked out the players. That both parties appeared entrenched, immovable and intent on pursuing what could be a long legal battle is an understatement. Actually it was DeMaurice Smith, the Executive Director of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) who walked out of the negotiations though failure appeared inevitable, even desired. That said, it was money that moved them apart and it will be money that will get them back together.

Now I am all for good preparation but before the sitz mark on the good NFLPA Executive Director’s chair had melted ten players including Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. Their lawyers also announced that they also filed a request for an injunction that would lift the lockout. This suit and the language therein certainly reflects weeks and probably months (years?) of hard work and preparation negatively reflecting on the sincerity and at least the negative expectations of those players and the NFLPA. There was a lot of hostility reflected there and will surely result in more enmity between the two sides.

My visceral reaction is that the NFL owners as the parties who put up the bucks and funded this whole concept have certain inalienable rights and should be able to pay within fair and reasonable bounds what they figure is equitable compensation to anyone in their organizations. However that’s all balanced by fair wage and anti-discrimination laws, something called the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 and the precedence of all the previous agreements where the NFL owners have literally given away the farm to the NFLPA (hoisted by their own petard).

In May 2008 the NFL owners fully engaged their conundrum and option by voting to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2006 where an estimated 60 percent or more of league revenues are going to player compensation. I can’t put this in a business perspective as this metric appears to be all across the board by company and industry. Bottom line is that the owners feel that with the increased cost of doing business, the more they can reserve for their profits, the better. Understandably, the owners appear dedicated to increasing a few more percentage points in their favor. Understandably, the NFLPA appears intent on negotiating a bigger piece of the pie at the owner’s expense. Both sides give lip service to The Fans, but its really all about the bottom line.

So, it would seem that while the owners are not trying to undo all that they have done, they would like to restart the clock a bit or only concede a little. While it certainly appears, and especially so in these unsettling financial times, that these agreements and the huge dollars are not sustainable (like the rest of our spending), the prospects of regressing aren’t likely. The old rule of thumb in HR is that you can’t take back what you have already given though the airlines seem to have been successful in breaking that rule. Then, however, it was concede or lose your jobs. That will not likely happen here though a one year hiatus might be healthy and just what the doctor ordered.

The NFL owners refuse to open their books and I certainly understand their hesitation to capitulate to what are essentially employees. While the players may think so, this really is not a partnership. The average life span of an NFL player is around four years and most are looking for a payoff that will sustain them for the rest of their lives. What they should have been doing was pursuing their education and marketable skills that will allow them to earn a fair wage like the rest of us. I know a college player who was drafted in the NFL/AFL, played running back for the Rams for a couple of years and has been practicing dentistry ever since. He sets a great example.

To the average Joe on the street the “Millionaires v Billionaires” battle is a ludicrous scenario except when it comes to their team, their blue and silver, black and gold, red and navy, etc. Most cannot see beyond their stadiums and the glory that their teams can reap and their declared association with them. Everybody wants to belong and be part of something bigger than they are. To fantasize, raise a glass high and even be silly for a few hours a week is healthy and even provides a sense of purpose and relief in our consummately challenging world.

Despite those alliances and relief from the mundane, for most of us struggling to put food on the table and roof over our heads, this fight for over billions of dollars in revenues over a game, however popular, in these trying times, appears to be on another planet, even universe. Yes, we can be motivated and inspired by our favorite teams and no doubt the negative effect on the financials of those that depend on the game including vendors of all shapes and sizes - will be huge. Mercy, what will the gamblers and pizza delivery folks do?

But, this debate is so far away from the Ultimate Fan that it defies explanation and like the NFL strike of 1987 will surely damage the game and take it yet another step backward. The REAL FAN will become ancillary to the overall scheme of things where the rich and famous and corporations will be the primary subscribers while those aforementioned real fans will watch on pay TV. I know a former NFL season ticket holder of 30 years priced out of his seat though he may occasionally do a standing room only (SRO) deal, if he can afford it. I will not be a SRO or pay to watch any game on TV including the Super Bowl, even if the Dallas Cowboys or New York Giants are playing.

The silver lining in all this is that we may just have to resort to more college football and spending more time with Family and Friends. Wonder if the divorce or even birth rates will spike during this period…

That said, when the two sides finally do come to an agreement all will probably be forgiven and back on track with everybody smiling to the bank. The NFL and the NFLPA are counting on that…
Count me out.


Ned Buxton

No comments: