Sunday, February 7, 2010
NFL Owners and NFLPA Better Think Twice
I know a lot of folks, friends of mine, who are facing layoffs, cuts to their jobs, or dramatic downsizing of their family budget. These aren't slimy people or ne'er-do-wells, but good people with families to feed. I don't claim a political affiliation other than reality: the economy is wreaking havok on the lives of the common man.
Lori Nickel of JSOnline wrote up a nice summary of the labor issues involving the NFL and its players, as they squabble over figures of money that we last saw being offered as bailouts to banks and lending institutions, who then turned over that money to their CEOs as bonus checks. America got their feathers ruffled over that, and soon, you have to think that the same indignation is going to be directed at millionaire players and their multi-millionaire bosses.
Essentially, it comes down to what everyone else is going through: the NFL is facing losses just like everyone else and looking wherever it can to make up the difference. The documentation of the Green Bay Packers downturn, made public because it is the only publicly-owned team, is just a glimpse into what other teams are facing: Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder are probably weathering the storm, but downtrodden teams from small markets are likely faring worse than the Packers and their eternally-fervent fan base and perpetually sold-out stadium.
But as an agreement over the $8 billion from the television contracts stalls, the resulting chaos will negate all the things that have made the NFL the #1 sport in America. And when the people who make the NFL what it is feel like their product is changing for the worst, they will express their frustration.
And when they are sitting at home on a layoff, struggling to put together enough money for a grocery trip, they aren't going to be much too pleased with the idea that their hard-earned money for tickets, merchandise, and products advertised during games is being haggled over by millionaires who want to squeeze the other party out of just a little bit more.
In an economic crisis like this, the NFL can really drive a wedge between themselves and their fan base, much as baseball did back in 1993 when they canceled the World Series. Many will tell you that there are many fans who still haven't come back since that debacle of greed.
In a nutshell, the two sides need to compromise quickly and get the reports of greed and doom and gloom out of the headlines. This isn't your local factory losing money and going out of business...this is one of the strongest businesses in the nation fighting who gets the billions of dollars they are guaranteed to make even if they lock the players out.
I still claim to be a Bucks and Brewers fan. I watched all three Wisconsin teams fervently as a teenager in the 1980's. But there is a reason my NBA and MLB fandom has waned over the years.
I was probably as big of a Brewer fan as any back in the 80's. I attended Game 3 of the World Series back in 1982. I could tell you every name of every player and their stats. I could predict when Ben Oglivie would foul off eleven pitches, and then pop out to the shortstop. I can still tell you the name of the pitcher who gave up Rickey Henderson's record-setting steal.
But the game changed. As revenues increased, the lack of a salary cap turned the Brewers into nothing more than a quadruple-A farm club for the teams that had deep pockets, resulting in a bitterness and resentment for big-market teams that fielded playoff contenders year after year. The endless mediocrity of the Brewers in the face of big-spenders turned a lot of fans off, especially when young players developed internally would finally blossom, only to jump ship for a fat contract elsewhere.
Add to that the cancellation of a season and the resistance to regulate and enforce steroid use, and it is no wonder why MLB has lost so much of its luster. An unfair balance of power with players whose statistics now coming into question means this sport is not the same as the one I watched back in 1982.
The NBA, unfortunately, is just as bad. The game has evolved into something much different than I used to watch with Sidney Moncrief and Bob Lanier in the 80's, when a semblance of team offenses were run, and defenses were more than just fouling. The games has shifted away from the audience that enjoys the game of basketball featured in "Hoosiers" to the game seen on playgrounds.
But the "luxury cap" and soft cap of the NBA, as well as loose free agency rules, means that players tend to move freely from team to team after only a few years. This has impacted my willingness to follow the Bucks as fervently as I used to, because it seems that every three years or so, the entire roster turns over. I made an effort to start watching the Bucks again when the "Big Three" rose to prominence in 2001, but was turned off by Sam Cassell's repeated drives to the hoop (despite open players calling for the ball), then whining about a foul not being called. And then, within two seasons after that, all "Big Three" players had departed the team.
It is many of these CBA agreements that keeps the NFL in a prominent position: the NFL has boasted a level playing field and allowed teams to keep the faces of the franchise in the fold. The Packers never really contended throughout the 70's and 80's until that hard salary cap was enforced in the early 1990's, and that sharing of revenue (that MLB refuses to adopt) brought the Packers back into glory. Face it: do you think we'd be watching a Super Bowl today with a team from Indiana and a team from Louisiana without that revenue sharing?
It's one thing to alienate your fan base by squabbling over billions of dollar in the middle of a recession. It is another to lock the players out and take games away from the fans over that greed.
But if the NFL goes into the uncapped year, with no ceiling or basement, and starts allowing massive free agent movement to boot? Changing the makeup of the game, forever removing the parity and level playing field?
As in the case of major league baseball, three strikes, and you're out.
But, sadly, we've witnessed it too many time over the last few years: greed rules, and unfortunately, gets rewarded in the end.