Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ticking Off the Fans

You know what fans really hate?

Billionaires bickering with millionaires over how much money each side gets. Which is exactly what the NFL and the players' association are probably about to do. News broke Tuesday that NFL owners opted out of the current collective bargaining agreement, meaning a potential uncapped year in 2010 and a possible lockout in 2011.

NFL brass assured everyone the game will continue "without threat of interruption for at least the next three seasons." But the big bone of contention -- at least for owners -- is the combined $4.5 billion a year they have to give players. Under the current deal, players receive 60 percent of league revenues, and owners apparently think that's too much.

There are other reasons for the opt-out: higher labor costs, problems with the rookie pool and the NFL's inability to recoup bonuses of players who breach their contracts (i.e., Michael Vick). But the big one appears to be the 60-percent piece of the pie the players receive.

In a stroke of irony, NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler told the Wall Street Journal prior to the announcement that should the owners opt out, the union would seek an increased share of the revenues. Kessler supported that stance by saying the union received an increase every other time a new CBA had been agreed upon.

Like I said, billionaires bickering with millionaries.

Do I think the players deserve 60 percent of NFL revenues? Of course -- the league and its owners make a humungous profit off the players (from ticket sales to merchandise numbers and advertising dollars), so it's only fair for the players to receive at least half of that. It's a similar argument to the one those in favor of paying student-athletes make, but in the NFL it holds more water, particularly since there's no such thing in the NFL as a guaranteed contract.

And while Kessler and Gene Upshaw might be justified in asking for a larger share for the players, perception will paint a negative picture. The owners are flexing their greedy muscles in trying to squeeze millions out of the players, yet the players -- many of whom already rake in millions in contracts and endorsements -- are trying to fill their own already-stuffed pockets.

Regrdless of who might be right in this (and I side with the union), no one's going to look right in public opinion. When owners and players start fighting over dollar amounts the general fan couldn't even dream of, that's a public relations nightmare.

The NFL is high and mighty, and will likely survive this -- possibly without a stoppage in 2011. But the longer this drags, the worse everyone looks and the more Roger Goodell might be looking up Gary Bettman's phone number.

When billionaires and millionaries fight over money, everyone loses.

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