My Take (So Far) On the NFL Labor Dispute

I’m a huge fan of pro football.  While I don’t sit in front of the TV all Sunday, I do get excited by each weeks games.

It’s been disappointing, but not surprising, that there is currently a strike / lockout, however you want to look at it.  As of now, the season is a few months away, so who really knows if there will be a 2011 season or not.

I really hope that the owners and players get their act together before damage is done.  I remember when the World Series and part of a season was lost, and how it took years (and an entire steroid scandal) to get the lost fans back in the seats.  The NHL shut down for an entire season a few years back, and the already low fan base sunk to never before seen levels.

I think there’s this mentality, particularly in the owners case, that the NFL is too big and too popular to have the same type of situation happen to them if they started canceling games.  They probably feel that the fans will come back when the games come back.

I think they’re wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of fans will.  But, some won’t.  If Sundays in the fall start becoming football free, some fans will find other things to do.  And, they’ll keep doing them even after the games come back.  Maybe the owners are OK with that, figuring that even a 10% loss in revenue over the first couple of years can be made up in what they hope to gain by a more favorable contract.

That’s where the harsh reality comes in that the NFL is a business, pure and simple.  We watch the games because we love them, but everybody involved with the league does what they do, at least in part, because it’s their job and because there are personal finances at stake.

Personally, I think both sides are to blame for where we’re at and for the fact that NFL games could be at risk.

The players

They get paid well.  I’ve heard the fact that not all players have multi-million dollar contracts and that the average career is only three years.  I get that.  But, look at a player that makes around $250,000 per season (which I think is around the league minimum) and has that average career.  He makes $750,000.  Compare that to a guy that works construction or on the assembly line or whereever who might make $50,000 per year.  The NFL player makes in three years what the ‘average Joe’ makes in fifteen.  That leaves twelve years that the NFL player has to supplement his income.

Now, I know that’s speaking in generalities, but I think my point is clear: Most NFL players, even though they’ll cry hardship, make a pretty good living.  Now, I know that they’re putting themselves at significant risk, but so are the guys that go up and clean the upper floors of the Empire State Building.  There’s risk in every job and that’s their choice.  I’ve also heard that many NFL players are living paycheck to paycheck, and that’s where I have zero sympathy.

The owners

I see the owners point.  They see that, while the overall pool of money has been growing, the players cut has been growing at a faster rate than they’re getting.  Who in their right minds wouldn’t think that’s a little bit out of line?

Still, the fact is that the owners take (by every estimate I’ve seen) is still growing at a rate that’s better than most American’s get in terms of their own income.  And the fact that it’s hundreds of millions of dollars per year, well let’s not even go there in terms of whether I feel bad for them or not (hint: I don’t).

But the owners aren’t blameless.  They’ve played the ‘everybody’s out to get me’ and ‘we’re broke’ cards over and over again, yet most of them have stadiums that resemble palaces that, in many cases, were paid in large part by the public.  Stadiums factor into the overall wealth of a team, so the nicer the stadium and the more amenities it has adds to the owners bottom line, which is really nice considering that the owner didn’t even have to put up a good chunk of the money depending on how much he ‘convinced’ the city to fund their palace stadium.

Bottom Line

In the end, both sides should quit trying to get sympathy.  Both should quit their whining about how much they don’t have and how much the other side gets.  Because, from where I see it, both sides have it pretty darn good.  If they would somehow realize that, a workable and fair deal would be easy.

The Only Ones I Feel Bad For

The only group I feel bad for are those not involved with either side who make their living by the NFL.  Think of all the bar and restaurant owners and workers who count on NFL Sundays and Mondays.  What happens when they go out of business?  Think of every parking lot attendants in NFL cities who won’t be working come Sunday in the fall?  What about people who work at the networks, who will surely start cutting staff once those TV advertising dollars fail to come in?

Fans will survive.  They may not like it.  They may feel like they’re the innocent victims, but fans will get through it.  It’s the people who actively depend on the NFL for their livelihood and get pinched, but have absolutely no say in the matter, those are the only individuals I feel bad for in this whole thing.

Definitely not the players or owners.