Nine billion dollars. That's the size of the NFL's revenue pie that the owners are threatening to lockout the players over. The owners say they're stadium poor. The players say they just want to play. And the fans are treated like human ATMs. Both have drawn lines in the sand and neither seems willing to back down even with a mediator. Of course, neither side can talk to the media so maybe they're closer than we realize, but I'll only believe it when I see it.
Here's the argument in a nutshell for all those who have lives and couldn't be bothered with following every twist and turn of the sports world's version of "Who wants to be a millionaire". In 1993 the owners and players signed the current CBA. The owners allowed the players to be free agents and the players allowed the owners to have a salary cap. Now the owners are opting out. They want the players to take an 18% pay cut, extend the regular season to 18 games, and to install a rookie salary cap. There's obviously more to it than that, but those are the main issues.
So with NFL revenues higher than they've ever been, why are the owners telling the players they need to take a pay cut while at the same time asking them to play more games? The answer is simple. It's Jerry Jones. OK, it's not actually Jerry Jones, but it's the palace he built, even if fans are herded like cattle into the stadium only to find the seat they paid $800 for isn't safe to sit in because Jerry couldn't be bothered with making sure the fire marshal checked them out in time. Cities are no longer willing to pony up all the money for these stadiums and every owner who hasn't already, wants a new one or at least an upgrade to the current one. And they're not cheap.
So now the owners are threatening the players with a lockout. What's even better, they made a sweat-heart deal with their TV partners ensuring they'll still make $4 billion in revenue this year even if a single game isn't played. That means the owners are in a far better financial situation to weather the storm of a lost season then the players are. I can just hear the words of Charlie Sheen right now. Winning! By the way, does anyone really believe he cured his addiction in a nanosecond by using the power of his mind? If you've ever wondered what someone coked out of their mind sounds like, just listen to Charlie Sheen rant like a lunatic.
But all is not lost for the players. They've seen what players from the NBA and MLB did during their lockout and they're learning from it. There won't be any quotes like we had from Patrick Ewing when he said, "Sure NBA players make a lot of money, but we spend a lot of money." Apparently surrounding yourself with a pose of "yes" men can be expensive. You won't see an NFL player drive up to a meeting in a stretch limo like we saw with MLB All-Star Lou Whitaker. "I'm rich," he said. "what am I supposed to do, hide it?" No, just don't forget your fur coat made of clubbed baby seals in the back seat. Instead the players have started a "Just let us play" campaign. They have commercials showing an empty and locked stadium with the players and fans saying, "Just let us/them play." It's the big bad owners who opted out of the current CBA and are forcing the lockout, not the players.
That strategy should help them win the court of public opinion, but it's not their only card to play. Their second strategy is to dissolve the union. On Thursday, if a new CBA has not been agreed on, the players will end the union and play as a trade organization. If the owners insist on locking them out, they'll sue them for breaking antitrust laws. It's one thing to lockout a union but it's against the law to deny employment to a group of individuals. Of course it's all a sham and the owners will insist the union isn't gone. After all, the players have dissolved the union before in 1987 and once they finally got a new CBA 1993, they started it up again.
Ultimately what it all comes down to is that the players don't believe the owners are really that hard up for money. Just look at Albert Haynesworth's $100 million contract as exhibit A. Since every team except the Green Bay Packers is privately owned, their books are private as well (in case you're wondering, the Packers made $29.9 million in profit over the last two fiscal years). The players demands are simple. Show us where you're losing money and we'll agree with what you're asking. "Do I need your help reading a revenue chart son?" Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson told Peyton Manning. "Do I need to help break that down for you because I don't know if you know how to read that." NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith claims the owners would gladly show their financial statements if they were really losing money, "I wouldn't be able to walk down the street without being bombarded with financial statements. Here's a copy for you kitchen, here's one for your bathroom." What? No copy for his man cave? And what's the wife's version of a man cave? Is it the rest of the house?
Then there's one more source of revenue the owners don't like to talk about and it's right in the open. Between 1996 and 2007, the value of an NFL franchise went up by 338%. An owner who first bought their team in 1996 and sold in 2007 would have made on average around $693 million in profit, even in the unlikely event the team lost some money every year.
So that's where we are. The owners want to increase their revenue by adding two more regular season games while at the same time reducing salaries by 18% but the players want proof that the owners are hurting as much as they claim. If a new CBA isn't signed by Midnight on Thursday, the players will dissolve their union and the whole thing will go to the courts. "We signed a (bleep) deal last time and we're going to stick together and take back our league and (bleeping) do something about it," Panthers owner Richardson said. No word yet if he'll actually use the extra money to make his 2-14 team any better.