What do Mongolia, the Bahamas, and Zimbabwe all have in common? They each generate less revenue than the NFL. In fact, 53 other countries exist below this Nine Billion Dollar financial Mendoza Line. In contrast with these struggling nations, all of whom have tens of millions of citizens to support, the NFL employs 100,000 people. Assuming that the NFL divided its profits equally among all of its employees, including vendors, janitorial staff, and security, each worker would gross $90,000 a year. Unfortunately, this Marxist ideology does not appeal to two competing factions, the owners and the players. These groups stand to earn over 90% of the available revenue, which will be split between 1,532 people. Divvying up this exorbitant sum, comparable to the earning power of 56 nations, between fifteen hundred people has created a mudslinging standstill that leaves the media dumbfounded and grasping blindly for answers.
At its root, the disagreement between the players and the owners pertains to a disputed $1 billion portion of the $9 billion kitty. The players insist that the money should be contributed to medical coverage for retired players. The players cite medical research that calculates the average pro footballer’s lifespan to be 58 years. In addition, 80 percent of NFL players declare for bankruptcy, mainly due to unpaid medical bills after retiring. The owners’ pursuit of a new 18 game schedule instead of the current 16 game model could take a further toll on the players’ bodies, adding to the need for medical care. The NFLPA, the players’ union, insists that post-career care be added into the NFL’s cost structure.
The owners insist that the contested billion be distributed among themselves. They point to a number of financially struggling teams that will likely falter if they do not receive fiduciary reinforcement. In order to keep the league strong, the ownership groups insist that all teams must be financially stable to help maintain competitive balance. This will yield further fiscal growth, allowing players’ salaries to rise. The owners provide the players with many opportunities to attend investing seminars, which affords them the ability to plan for their monetary well-being. Considering many NFL players profess living paycheck to paycheck, one could attack their sensibility with money – adding credence to the owners’ argument that they should not have to provide post-career medical coverage.
The squabbling was exacerbated by two crucial mistakes on both sides, contributing to the mire that the league finds itself in. The owners refused to show their accounting books to Commissioner Goodell, the NFLPA, or even the other owners. This makes one question if the financial deficiency that certain teams claim actually stems from foolish decisions made on an individual basis. The owners also lost favor in the court of public opinion by refusing to reimburse fans’ season ticket money until the season has played out - locked out or otherwise. Rather than allowing the fans to earn interest on the hundred of millions of dollars spent on season tickets, the owners have the luxury of adding to their coffers by retaining the money.
The players have damaged their cause as well. NFLPA Union Leader DeMaurice Smith has repeatedly provided easily disputable information. In one instance, Smith was quoted as saying, “Right now as we speak, how much money do the NFL teams provide to the former player pensions? The answer is zero.” Though the owners do not provide health coverage, they do provide a pension plan. The owners contributed $187 million in 2009, and $166 million in 2010.
The union also appears fractured in the eyes of the public. Some players support all union choices. Other players already expect to lose the battle. Many players question union leadership, while some denounce it outright. These are only four of the myriad opinions that players have voiced. The fact that they voiced them to the media, and continue to do so, demonstrates a lack of focus toward a common goal.
The players’ lack of focus and unity, coupled with quickly diminishing financial resources will inevitably lead to their acquiescence. As a divided unit, the internal bickering will likely weigh on the outspoken voices promoting the strike, causing them to withdraw. Without a group of leaders attempting to acquire more converts, the players will wander aimlessly, going through the motions until one side flinches. Considering that all of the players have significantly less financial resources to weather a work stoppage than the owners, most experts agree that the players will accept most of the terms laid out by the owners. The owners want this to become a war of attrition, because they have the most ammunition.
Though “The Lockout” may be a story that will loiter throughout the summer, it will not extend through the entire season. Both sides will accept a reduced (12, 10, or 8 game) schedule, leaving the NFLPA a dissatisfied malcontent and the fans unfulfilled. Goliath can select his victory cigar for this one.
* I would like to thank ProFootballTalk.com for furnishing all statistics, figures, and quotes pertaining to the NFL.