Tuesday, April 12th, 2011...10:13 pm

NFL Lockout … Yep, It’s Still Going

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I’m going to be that guy. I am going to sit here and defend the NFL and its owners in this labor dispute. I’m not saying I am pro-management overall, but I’m not saying I’m not either. However, since it appears the media is beginning to sympathize with the players and since the NFLPA appeared to win the last battle, I’d like to take the other side of the debate for today.

On Monday April 11, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson ordered the two sides into court-monitored mediation under the supervision of Chief Magistrate Judge Aurthur Boylan. This is a win for the players because the mediation is aimed to settle a lawsuit rather than towards a collective bargaining session. This presumably gives the players more leverage, and possibly allows Judge Boylan to issue binding orders. Players hope to get access to the league’s sealed financial books and use the threat of continued litigation to force the league to back down.

So with all that in mind, I will now defend the league’s owners. First, let’s not forget this is a business and these individuals have a duty to each other and themselves to try and secure the best deal they possibly can. They would be foolish not to. Whether or not you agree with the wisdom of the lockout, it was a right reserved in the last collective bargaining agreement. They have done nothing illegal by locking the players out … yet. I guess in theory the anti-trust suit could render this move illegal, but any relief would be purely injunctive.

A February Wall Street Journal report written by Matthew Futterman states that revenues are flattening while player compensation has doubled over the past decade. The report cites decreased taxpayer money for stadiums and slowing growth in broadcast revenue as reasons that NFL teams are bringing in less. Between now and 2013, the last year of the current deal, television revenues will only increase 9%, which could affect the salary cap. Back when the NFL still had one, it was primarily calculated off the revenue from said television contract.

Ticket prices are another factor. Futterman notes that ticket prices have also flattened, basically leveling out over the last few years. So I ask you NFL fans, would you rather have NFL owners raise ticket prices or limit player compensation?

Look, obviously the NFL is healthy right now, and both the owners and players are making money. But with revenues flattening, the owners have to look ahead to the next few years, and not just this year. This year they will be fine, but what about 2013? Who is going to look out for the financial health of the league? Not the player’s union (I mean, trade association). Not the media. Like any industry, it is up to the management of its individual entities. We can’t fault them for furthering the interests of the sport.

Now, as far as the other issues are concerned, it gets a little more complicated. I find the proposal¬† for an 18 game schedule ridiculous, especially after the league says it is concerned with player safety. The rookie wage scale seems obvious, but the union will want a concession (even though it would benefit veteran players). Fixing the pre-season would be nice too because fans are forced to pay full price for games they don’t want to watch. And I’m not well versed enough in the whole player health/retirement benefit issues to really weigh in there. In sum, I agree the player’s have some legitimate arguments, but they seem to apply mostly for the secondary issues.

As for the money issue, how to divide up the pie, the owner’s have a compelling argument. The NFL does not release its financial information, so it is tough to know for sure the exact economic state of the league (Green Bay, however, is publicly owned and has shown declining revenues). With the information currently available, I see nothing wrong with the owner’s trying to secure a favorable deal, especially because most commentators say the players “won” at the last round of collective bargaining.

However, this dispute is no longer a matter of collective bargaining, at least in form. It is now in the hands of the courts, and I’m not sure whether that is good or bad.

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