"Show Me the Money." Mention this piece of film brilliance and most people know it comes from the movie "Jerry Maguire." I sat in a meeting last week about the upcoming NFL lockout, and it was one of the first things that popped into my mind. Concerned with the ramifications of the ongoing NFL/NFLPA collective bargaining agreement negotiations, I asked former NFLer and current NFLPA representative Scott Turner to fill us in on the current state of affairs. I will try to regurgitate the plethora of information he gave us as best as I can. There are currently 1900 active players, over 18,000 retired players, and countless others who will be affected by a lockout so this is important info and worth telling.
Scott began by giving us a little history about the current CBA which is set to expire March 3rd. Both sides - the NFL (representing the owners) and the NFLPA (representing the players) - agreed to bargain "in good faith" in the event of conflict over the CBA. The CBA was signed in 2006 and was supposed to run through 2012 but the NFL owners have opted out of the final year of the agreement. Some food for thought though - the owners didn't opt out of the agreement recently. They opted out way back in 2008 - just two years after agreeing to the CBA. The owners claimed that in this struggling economy, NFL teams were struggling financially and they believed players needed to incur some of the financial loss. The NFLPA asked to see the corporate books of the teams - the thought process being that if teams are struggling financially, they should look at areas that were actually struggling and address those particular areas instead of imputing blanket responsibility.
Bob Batterman, the labor and employment attorney responsible for orchestrating the NHL lockout in 2007, has been hired to represent the NFL. His response to the NFLPA's request to see the books - "The owner's profit is none of your business." Curious - is that what bargaining "in good faith" looks like? Is the NFLPA supposed to just take the NFL's word for it that they are struggling financially, so much so that they now want to impose some of that financial loss on players? I mean, we know how much the NFL really cares about the players - as evidenced by the fact that they only recently acknowledged concussions might lead to long-term mental disabilities for players.
Struggling financially, huh? Let's look at some of the facts. NFL teams are cash cows. Most teams have increased in value over 500%. Nine NFL franchises top the list of Forbes most valuable sports franchises. In comparison, there is one MLB team on that list - the New York Yankees. The most valuable NFL franchise is the Dallas Cowboys of course. The Green Bay Packers, the only publicly-owned team in the NFL, reported it's earnings at $25 million last year. Sounds like a lot of money to me in a struggling economy. Yet team owners want us to believe they are struggling so much, it's time to pass that burden on to the players?
Here is what the current fight is over - 18/18. The NFL wants to increase the regular season to 18 games while forcing players to take an 18% pay cut. Let's start by talking about the 18 games. Currently, there are four preseason and 16 regular season games. Many folks have wanted to do away with the preseason forever. From the owner's perspective, they aren't very profitable. From the player's perspective, there is certainly an increased risk for injury, and if you aren't on that opening day roster, for most players that means you're not getting paid. If the owners get what they want, there will be 2 preseason games and 18 regular season games. So what's the big deal? It still equals 20 games.
Regular season games are more intense and take a larger toll on players. Many vets only see a significant amount of playing time in two preseason games anyway so for many of them, taking away two of their preseason games and tacking them onto the regular season REALLY means playing two more games. The average NFL game consists of 70 plays. Most players aren't getting that many downs in the preseason, but tacking them on in the regular season will mean more downs played. Scott asked the guys in the room how they feel around week 6 or week 7 of the regular season. Already hurting by that time of year, a couple guys responded that they wonder how they'll get through the rest of the season. Adding two more games will certainly create a huge burden on the players. With over 400 players going on season-ending injured reserve during the 2010 season, it is valid concern.
Now let's look at statistics. Currently, the average NFL career is 3.2 years. The NFLPA estimates that if those two games are tacked onto the regular season, the average career will decrease to 2.9 years. Where this becomes a huge issue for players is that you don't become vested (and eligible for post-career insurance and benefits) until you play three credited seasons. More players getting hurt/shorter careers equals fewer benefits packages being paid out by the teams to former players. Insurance is expensive - bet they could save a lot of money since fewer players will become vested with an 18-game season.
As I mentioned before, preseason games aren't very lucrative. Conversely, adding 2 games to the regular season will add $500 million in discretionary income to NFL teams. Since those funds are discretionary, the NFL can use it on the players "if they want." I'm assuming they won't be writing any bonus checks since they are already struggling.
The NFLPA came back with some counter-proposals for the 18-game regular season. If the owners wanted more games, the NFLPA thinks there should be 5 or 6 more players on a roster (currently 53 players) to allow for players to heal from injuries or rest when needed. The NFL came back and offered one extra player and he could only play special teams. Huh? If there's a longer season, maybe there should be a shorter offseason program with fewer mini-camps, shorter training camps, etc. The NFL's response? Not happening.
The kicker is that it's not like the NFL is trying to pay players more for playing more. In fact, they want them to incur an 18% cut in pay. This would come in the form of charging players for travel expenses (that's right - players would have to pay to travel to away games), and facility and stadium maintenance. Seriously - players would have to pay to maintain the facilities, yet they'd have no financial stake in them. There would be no income paid for sold-out concerts or circuses in the facilities they were being charged to maintain. Can you imagine if your boss came to you and told you you'd have to take a pay cut so you could help maintain your office? And the fact that the NFL is so fleeting - that one day you could be on a roster and the next day you're packing your bags and turning in your playbook - is it really fair to ask players to pay to maintain a stadium they may not even be playing in?
The disagreements over these issues are leading to a potential lockout. There have been 36 negotiating sessions with no real progress, so the notion that there may not be a season in 2011 is inching towards becoming reality. Players are quick to tell you that this is not a strike - they WANT to play but they can't and won't under the owner's currently proposed 18/18 plan.
One of the wives in the meeting asked a great question - why would the NFL owners be playing such hardball? If there's no season in 2011, they won't be making "jack poo" either. Well, this isn't true. The NFL owners actually negotiated a media deal that will allow them to be paid even if there is no football played. How much will the owners make from the networks? $4 billion. That's right - that's BILLION with a "B." That means each team will get about $333 million if not one down is played in the fall of 2011. The owners are covered - they'd be making plenty of "poo."
So this all comes down to money - owners want more and players want to keep what they currently have. Can you blame players? Most aren't making millions and with the average career lasting 3.2 years (for now), shouldn't they try to get as much as they can?
There are very real consequences if the CBA expires and no new agreement is signed. Current players will loss their insurance and will have to pay for COBRA. COBRA isn't cheap - it can run close to $2,000/month for a family of four. COBRA only lasts for 18 months. Players will also lose their income if there is no season. Stadium employees from the parking attendants to the suite managers won't get paid. The financial impact could be huge.
We did get some good news in the meeting. Retired players currently receiving benefits will continue to get those benefits. Ryan and I often contemplated what it would be like to have to spend $2,000/month on insurance. It's money we don't really have to spare. And with his football injuries and Will's autism, it would be nearly impossible for us to find outside insurance. When Scott informed us that we'd still have insurance come March, I cried.
I asked Scott what we can do. He wants current players to OPEN THEIR MAIL!!!!! Anything they get from the NFLPA, our insurance company, etc. could contain time-sensitive information (players only have 60 days to file for COBRA - if they miss the deadline, they are SOL). He said let the NFLPA do their job - they are working very hard for the players. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this will all get worked out.
Bottom line - this lockout comes down to money. Instead of the NFL owners trying to take from the little piece of the pie that the players get, they need to spread the "wealth" among themselves and stop asking the players to "show them the money." How about owners show us their money - then maybe both sides can come to the table and really start talking.
Check out www.nfllockout.com for more information.