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Haves vs. Nots?

May 14, 2005, 11:48 AM EDT

Comments Off on Haves vs. Nots?

Is the NFL headed towards a multi-lateral war?

At least one team owner thinks it may be. From David Elfin in the Washington Times:

After 45 years as a pro football owner, Buffalo’s 86-year-old Ralph Wilson has earned the right to be heard. So when Wilson says the NFL’s ongoing collective bargaining agreement discussion is more of a club vs. club than league vs. union problem, it requires some attention.

As an owner in one of the NFL’s smallest markets, Wilson doesn’t like the growing disparity in revenue between the big-money clubs and the rest of the league, nor what he perceives as the richer group’s disdain for the less wealthy majority.

We’ve visited this before, but it’s worth another look as each passing day seems to have the three sides–the so-called “rich” owners, the “low-revenue” owners and the players–hunkering down a little bit more into their respective positions. The higher-revenue owners want to be able to keep what they have in terms of income from luxury seating, stadium naming rights, concessions and parking, the less-wealthy owners want their cut and the players want a bigger slice of the pie.

Wilson’s remarks had the same whiny tone as have those of Pittsburgh’s Dan Rooney:

There’s about eight or 10 of the high-revenue clubs that seem to be united in a bloc. They want to keep the disparity. They want to knock us down and have us get up at the count of nine, so they can have another fight and knock us down again.

That doesn’t mean he and his fellow have-not owners don’t have a case, at least a partial one. Nobody would buy a $250 club seat and a $7 beer to watch the Redskins play the Redskins, or at least they wouldn’t do it eight times a year. As Marvin Gaye sang with Kim Weston, “It Takes Two.” There needs to be a reasonably competitive contest on the field for people to shell out that kind of money. If the Bills visit FedEx Field, they are entitled to a reasonable share of the revenue that such an event generates and the definition of reasonable could include a cut of the luxury seat revenue, concessions, and parking.

Where the case of the owners like Wilson is at it weakest, however, is when he frets about competitive balance being affected.

We just want to have enough revenue under the new collective bargaining agreement that gives us a chance to field a competitive team. If we don’t get that, then along the line the league is going to be totally unbalanced. It’s not going to be the league it used to be.

Let’s see here, Wilson’s team was eliminated from the playoffs on the last weeked of the season. The Colts, who, according to this article, take in about half the revenue that the Redskins do, have gone deep into the playoff for the last few years. Rooney’s Steelers went 15-1 and lost in the AFC title game. Meanwhile, two of the primary teams in the gang of ten bullies, the Redskins and Cowboys, both went 6-10. It’s hard to make a case that this “imbalance” in revenue is having any effect on the field.

And hey, Ralph, if you want to play in Ralph Wilson Stadium, fine. I’m sure that the NFL owners who have sold the naming rights for their stadiums would probably rather have the buildings named after them, too. But it’s a luxury that, in their view, they can’t afford. Wilson has made a choice here and the other owners shouldn’t, in essence, pay him for the luxury of having his own name on the stadium.

Along those lines, what assurances are there that any revenue that Snyder, Jerry Jones and the others might share with Wilson, Rooney and company would get put towards making their football teams more competitive (assuming that that is a necessity)? Will they put the money into more scouting, better video or workout equipment, more quality coaches, or will they just pocket the cash? This is what has happened in baseball as the Yankees, Red Sox, and others pay into a fund that’s supposed to help competitive balance. Some of the receipients of the so-called luxury tax have spent to try to improve their teams; others have simply put it on to the bottom line. There is little reason to believe that the NFL owners would not fall into the same line.

And changing the revenue-sharing formula is not just a matter of fairness, it’s one of cold, hard fiscal reality. Ralph Wilson didn’t put a dime into the stadium that’s named after him and he paid off any debt he may have incurred in buying the team long, long ago. Daniel Snyder is making mortgage payments on FedEx Field and on the Redskins and when the financing was set up, it was presumed that he would have all of the luxury seating revenue in order to make the payments. Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans:

If you come back in and change the model and take too much away from them, then they don’t have enough money to service the debut. You’ve got people, just like ourselves, who paid big money for the franchise based on the existing model. If you change that model, all of sudden you’re taking away the value you’ve paid for. Those factors have to be addressed.

Most of the money we’re talking about here is also exempt from being calculated into the formula that determines what the salary cap is and that, naturally, has the interest of Gene Upshaw and the player’s union. Just like one could make a reasonable arguement that the visiting team deserves a share of the “untouchable” revenue, the players do, too. In fact, you could make a much stronger case for the players getting a bigger cut.

But this leads to sticky problems in that you can’t share luxury revenue with the players without sharing it with the “poor” owners because they will scream that they can’t afford a higher salary cap without higher revenues. So a deal with the players can’t be achieved without one among the owners.

The NFL has a great way of coming up with creative solutions to issues such as this. Paul Taglibue and the rest of the league will have their imaginations taxed to the max as they try to come up with a solution to this one.

  1. Anonymous - May 20, 2005 at 5:54 PM

    One of the things that I like best about the NFL is that there is more of a level playing field between the teams. Just look at some of the teams that have won recently: Baltimore, Tampa, St. Louis which are not the rich big market teams. Ironically, the Patriots, who are from a bigger market, haven’t won championships by outspending other teams – they’ve actually won by doing the opposite. If there’s one thing the Redskins have proven without a doubt is that having a lot of money to spend doesn’t do much for you with regard to success on the field. This is different than baseball, where teams like Boston and the Yankees can outspend the rest of the league and, more often than not, be at the top of the standings – something I view as unfair. The very nature of the game of football is different that that of baseball such that big spending doesn’t translate into success. That’s one reason why the NFL is so popular. With good coaching and wise personal decisions, any small market team (like San Diego or Carolina or Indianapolis or Pittsburgh) can be in the hunt for a championship. Owners may raise the argument that its difficult for the small market teams to compete with the big spending big market teams, but that argument has been proven false by the facts and really this argument is used by the small market owners to try and get more money for themselves – they are jealous of the money that owners like Snyder is making. It has nothing to do with competetiveness, although that sounds like a good argument, its just not accurate.

  2. mattymatty - May 24, 2005 at 2:04 PM

    I know this is a football blog, but the idea that there is no competitive balance in baseball is just untrue. Look at who has won the World Series in the last four years: Red Sox, Marlins, Angels, Diamondbacks. Furthermore, the small market Twins are four-time division champs, the small market A’s have won their division four out of the last five years, and the Braves have beaten the Mets 13 years in a row. Sure the yankees and to a lesser extent the Red Sox can outspend their competition, but so can (and do) the Redskins, and as Rich has pointed out, a lot of good it has done them. It can help, and if used correctly it can help a good amount, but money does NOT equal winning, both in the NFL and MLB.

  3. Anonymous - May 25, 2005 at 3:23 PM

    That may be true to some extent, but money in baseabll can at least get you to (or close to) the playoffs. After that, its anybody’s guess whose going to win. To say otherwise is rediculous. The same can’t be said for football. The Redskins prove it. They spend as much money as possible, more than other teams, and they don’t win. Meanwhile, let’s look at the facts. Are you saying the the Red Sox are a small market team that has a small team salary? They outspend all but a few teams in the MLB. Furthermore, who did the Marlins play in the Series? Answer: the Yankees. Who did the Angels play? the Giants. Who did the Diamondbacks play? The Yankees. In fact, the Yankees were in 5 out of 6 World Series between 1998 and 2003. Money is not going to buy you a World Series victory, but, in baseball, it gets you into or close to the playoffs, much more so then football. Some of the most competitive teams in the NFL have been small spending teams who’ve been either stingy with money or haven’t had that much money to spend in the first place. The proportion of highly competitive teams in the NFL that don’t spend a ton of money is greater that the proportion of highly competitive teams in MLB that don’t spend a ton of mney. In other words, the connection between spending and competitiveness is stronger in baseball than football. Sure there will be exceptions, but look at the big picture.

  4. Anonymous - May 28, 2005 at 4:45 AM

    One thing though, if you read the book “Moneyball” it will open your eyes to the idea that a baseball team can be competitive even without spending much money (such as the Athletics). The financial inequities in baseball (Yankees etc) has turned me off the baseball for a long time, but after reading Moneyball, I realized that small market teams can still be competitive even with low salaries. They just have to be extremely intelligent and innovative(not just smart) in they way they manage their resources. Archives

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