January 2, 2011 in Sports

Mostly about money

NFL, players could be headed to lockout
Sam Farmer Los Angeles Times
 

LOS ANGELES – The 2010 NFL season began with a sign of solidarity. Before kickoff in the season-opening game, players from the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings stepped onto the Superdome turf and raised their index fingers to the sky – a message that they stand as one in the ongoing labor dispute with the league.

It’s a fight that threatens to shake the nation’s most popular sports league to its foundation, especially because labor peace has been a hallmark of the modern NFL. There hasn’t been a player work stoppage since 1987, and every other major U.S. professional sport has had one in the interim.

So what’s this all about? Money, of course.

“We are not where we need to be – we need to get an agreement,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said recently. “We have time to get it done, but it’s going to need a very concerted effort and commitment to get that done.”

The collective bargaining agreement between owners and players expires in March. If it runs out before a new deal is in place, there probably would be a lockout that would keep the players off the field, possibly into next season.

Basically, the owners are saying they need more money from the players, in the form of an 18 percent “credit” that would be taken off the top before gross revenue is calculated. Why? Because they believe the players should do more to offset the enormous cost of new stadiums, new media ventures and the like, which ultimately enrich everyone in the league.

The owners say that with that extra money they can “grow the pie” with initiatives that could include more international opportunities and putting one or two teams back in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest television market. Their argument: Although the players would have a smaller percentage of that pie, that percentage would be worth more because the pie is that much bigger.

What the players are saying, in essence: Prove to us that the current system is broken.

The players ask why they should have to pay more than they already do to offset the cost of stadiums. After all, if an owner who bought a franchise for $100 million sells it for 10 times that amount, the players don’t see a dime of that.

What’s more, the owners already get a healthy slice off the top before the gross revenues are calculated. The players want convincing proof that the owners need more money off the top to run the business – money that would have increased the $1 billion in 2009 to $1.35 billion.

There are other issues too. The one that would matter most to fans: Team owners would like to expand the regular season to 18 games by turning two exhibition games into ones that count. Players say the 16-game season (plus playoffs) is punishing enough.

“Right now, under our current system, 18 games is a nonstarter,” DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said.

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