Friday, March 27, 2009

I figured since I missed last week, I owed you an extra one this week.  And there is something else I wanted to talk about, but on a completely different topic.

I mentioned previously that the NFL Owners have chosen to opt out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and that this coming season is the last under the current salary cap.  If no new contract is reached, then the 2010 season will be an uncapped season (an explanation of what that would mean for the league can be found HERE), and odds are the owners will stage a lockout in 2011.  To make matters worse, longtime NFL Players Association (NFLPA) Executive Director Gene Upshaw passed away last year.  Upshaw had an excellent working relationship with the league, and losing him puts another wild card into the negotiations, as no one knows what is going to happen when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith sit down and start negotiating.  That is why I found this story so interesting, and have been wondering why it hasn't gotten the attention that I think it merits...

Now why is this such a big story?

  • Players hate preseason

Preseason games are no longer nearly as necessary as they were even 20 years ago.  The off season camps, both mandatory and "optional", the workout sessions, the personal trainers and nutritionists that the players and the teams keep on staff...all of that adds up to players no longer needing 4 games in order to get in playing shape.  Training camp itself is still needed in order to get players familiar with the playbook and to integrate new players, be they rookies or free agents.  But the days of players taking jobs in the off season in order to make ends meet is long gone, and the players are able to spend their off season rehabbing injuries and making themselves ready for the season.  All these games are good for (in the players' minds) is for getting injured before their contracts become guaranteed (this is important.  Remember this).  It seems like every year there is a marquee player getting injured in the preseason.  And who knows how many regular joes or guys scrapping for a slot on special teams go down with a season (and sometimes career) ending injury in a meaningless game in August?  There is no benefit for them.

  • Owners aren't THAT fond of it either

The owners do get SOME benefit from the preseason games in that the season ticket holders have to buy tickets to the 2 home preseason games as part of their package.  And they do make some money on concessions.  But the stadium is never as full, as energetic, or as hungry or thirsty as they are when the game means something.  The non season ticket holding fan is not going to buy a ticket to see the 3rd string left tackle play 3/4 of the game.  Most of the fans that DO attend leave by halftime, since the games are usually played on weeknights.  Thursday at 9pm in August, I just want to go home and sit in the air conditioning and decompress.  I am in no mood to put on my jersey, paint my face, and get stupid crazy in the stands.  It is just a fact.  And owners do not like when the stars go down any more than the players do.  They aren't going to cut them, so they have to pay them to do nothing.  Now they don't care as much when that undrafted rookie free agent goes down, because they don't have any kind of significant investment in that player.  But it is safe to say that no one likes to see another man get hurt for nothing (except maybe Philadelphia fans.  Sorry C3PO).  But since these games are not part of the broadcasting contract (local markets may broadcast them, but the networks do not show them nationally like they do regular season games), there is no real revenue for these games, and therefore no real benefit for the owners (this is also important).

The soon-to-be expired CBA (in the eyes of the owners) gave too much overall revenue to the players.  The vast majority of that revenue came from the television contracts, but the fact of the matter is that the Buffalo Bills do not generate as much money as the Dallas Cowboys.  They might get the same cut of the big pie, but their own bakeries have vastly different outputs.  And that puts the small market teams at a bit of a disadvantage.  This old CBA basically got hammered through by Upshaw and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, because Tagliabue did not want their to be the potential of labor stoppage during his tenure (the NFL has gone the longest of any professional league without a work stoppage of any kind).  Truth be told, the old CBA was not that nice to the owners, and they want the chance to correct that.  But the players have had a taste of the big money and they will not give that up without a fight.  And not without getting some other concessions...

Like maybe a reduction in meaningless games?

Think about it.  Less preseason games means less games before a contract is guaranteed (currently if a player has 4 years of credited service under the pension plan, then even if they are released once the season starts that season's pay is guaranteed).  Less preseason games means that it is more likely that a player who has already been with a team will be kept over someone else, just because the coaching staff has less of an opportunity to see if another (probably cheaper rookie) player will be able to do what the current player has already established that they CAN do (protecting the jobs of teammates who are on the bubble.  You always protect your own fraternity members before you ask others to join you).  All of this is good news for players.  Now add to that the fact that more regular season games means more ticket sales and concessions sales for owners, giving them more money.  Also, the television contracts would have to be renegotiated, and even in a recession the networks do not want to lose their cash cow.  And if one network balks, another will surely jump in (or, the NFL could move more games to the NFL Network and keep ALL the money, not to mention giving them a chance to get their network into more homes with their own increased negotiating power as a game broadcaster all season long).  There are a lot of options here, and pretty much all of them end up with more money for the league.  Also, if the season is expanded, the league can justify adding some more players to the active roster.  A bigger roster means more jobs for more players.  

All of this adds up to the owners being able to come to the negotiating table with a chance to offer the players more money, but with a lower percentage of revenues (2 more games means about 10% more revenue right off the bat - 2 games is 12.5%, minus what they would make off of the preseason games - plus the additional television revenue from the national contract adding more than they are losing from local broadcast rights for preseason games, and by my guess by more than a little bit.  So they can offer a lower percentage than they currently give, but that percentage would be more overall money than the players are currently getting).  Plus the players get more jobs to go around and a better chance of guaranteed payment for a number of their players.  Both sides make concessions and both sides win.

Of course, it is not as simple as all that.  There are a lot of things that have to go into any CBA, and a lot of things that both sides are going to want addressed.  But to me this smacks of an opening salvo from a very smart businessman named Roger Goodell.  He comes out to the public in support of something players have mentioned wanting for a while (less preseason), but with the added caveat of something the owners want (more revenue).  It is a very smart move, and one that I think is going to have major ramifications as the negotiations heat up.


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