May 14, 2005, 11:48 AM EDT
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.
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