Sports Outside the Beltway

NFL Owners Caving In?

It’s sure looking like it.

From the AP:

The extension of the NFL’s labor agreement is now up to the owners. That’s exactly what the players have been expecting all along. The owners began meeting Tuesday at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport to vote whether to accept the latest proposal given them by the NFL Players Association. But to make it financially acceptable, they will have to agree first among themselves on expanded revenue sharing, just what Gene Upshaw, the union’s executive director, has been saying in more than a year’s worth of talks.

Still, this is the first time it has come up during these negotiations. “I think it’s playing out exactly like we thought it would,” said Kevin Mawae, the New York Jets’ union representative until he was cut Sunday by the Jets. “We said as a union that in order for free agency to go off without a hitch, the owners would have to figure out how to divide up the revenue. It’s not necessarily the percentage that we’re asking but how they spread the wealth.”

There was an early note of optimism as the executive committee of the NFL’s Management Council — the owners’ committee that deals with labor issues — began bargaining. It came from an unlikely source: Dallas owner Jerry Jones, who has been strongly opposed to additional revenue sharing. “We want to play football,” Jones said as he entered the meeting. “We have an obligation to everyone, particularly our fans. “My gut is we’re going to come up with something, but it’s still up in the air. It’s going to be long and drawn out and tough.”

The contract doesn’t run out for another two years, though this will be the last one with a salary cap. Without an agreement, there will be no cap next year, allowing teams to spend as much as they want. But there also will be no minimum figure for expenditures, which could lead to the kind of imbalance with high-revenue and low-revenue teams as in such sports as baseball and European soccer.

Low-revenue teams such as Buffalo, Cincinnati and Indianapolis say high-revenue teams — Dallas, Washington and Philadelphia, for instance — should contribute proportionately to the player pool because they can earn far more in non-football income such as advertising and local radio rights. Those high-revenue teams might contribute only 10 percent of their outside money compared with 50 percent or more for low-revenue teams.


The union’s request is for 60 percent of total league revenues.

On Monday, Jones reiterated that he is opposed to revenue sharing. But he also sounded like a man who knows he might end up in the minority. “I’m not happy with the proposal. I didn’t think that we would be entertaining the kinds of propositions that we got from the players. I’m not happy with it at all,” he said. “As you well know, I don’t think anyone particularly cares how happy I am.”

ESPN’s John Clayton adds,

For this CBA extension to work, owners have to work out a revenue-sharing formula, a problem that has been blocking a deal for two years. Teams at the high end of revenue have a $100 million-plus revenue advantage over the others. But the high-revenue teams don’t want to lose the benefits of marketing their teams well and give it to owners who aren’t maximizing their revenues.

“I expect quite a push to get owners to come up with something,” Jones said. “I am cautiously optimistic just because we just want to play football. We have an obligation to everybody to see if we can make this thing [work].”

The players’ proposal came in much higher than the owners anticipated. At 59.5 percent, teams have to start preparing for a salary cap that could be as high as $106 million to $108 million, although it could be agreed upon to start the cap a little lower.

“Everybody knows this is a rich deal,” Jones said. “It’s going to take a lot to make this work. We have to run some tighter ships in maintaining our costs. We have to go over our cost structures. We are going to have to reexamine every aspect of your organization. Like I said, this is the hardest thing we’ve ever done with the players, relative to the revenue stream.”

Jones doesn’t think the meeting will be bloody. He refuses to call it a war. The discussions will be long and meaningful. It’s the future of the NFL as the league operates that is at stake.

There’s a lot of money to go around, to be sure. Certainly, a strike or lockout is in no one’s interest. But the idea that the lazy owners, much less the players, should get a piece of the profits earned by entrepreneurs like Jones on outside investments is just plain galling.

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