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Ralph's Mouth

Apr 11, 2006, 11:40 AM EDT

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You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net

A display of sheer, green envy just isn’t becoming of an 88-year-old man. But Ralph Wilson showed his colors in an Associated Press article published last week.

The Buffalo Bills’ owner called out Redskins owner Dan Snyder by name as the talked to the AP reporter as one of a group of owners who “To me, and this is just my opinion, [they] don’t have the same values about the league as the old guard did.”

Wilson whined on, “I just don’t think they’re as interested in the game as the old owners, I really don’t.”

The other two owners Wilson singled out by name are Jerry Jones of Dallas and Robert Kraft of New England.

Presumably, the “values” that Wilson is referring to have to do with money and the unwillingness of Snyder, Jones, Kraft and others to “share” it. Wilson located a lapdog in the Buffalo press, the Buffalo News to be exact, who was willing to do his bidding and further articulate his position:

The problem is a Cold New Breed of big-market, huge-egoed owners like Washington’s Dan Snyder and Dallas’ Jerry Jones, who can’t control their Inner Capitalist. They either don’t understand or don’t care about the all-for-one concept that built the league into a mega-monolith.

Uh, where is the evidence of that? In keeping all of the revenues from luxury seating, stadium naming rights and other sources, Jones and Snyder were just doing what league rules allowed them to do. Nobody asked them for a cut until recently. The first time they had a serious meeting about revenue sharing, which was last month, they were among those who voted to give money—tens of millions of dollars—to the lower-revenue clubs. What, where they just supposed to take out their pens and write out a check to Wilson without any kind of structure, any kind of formula in place?

By the way, what Wilson and his hack writer have conveniently forgotten was that the very same vote that created the revenue sharing plan also kept intact the salary cap system. While the higher-revenue owners like Snyder and Jones must have been tempted to try out a landscape that would have let them bid unlimited amounts of money to acquire the best players, they decided to keep the system in place, certainly not something that their “Inner Capitalist” would have them do. But, no, because they didn’t just hand Ralph Wilson a blank check they’re greedy, their values are misplaced and they don’t care about the game.

While we’re on the subject, can we talk about this myth that it is things like revenue sharing and the salary cap that have made the NFL popular? It has suddenly morphed into The Truth. The NFL is wildly popular not because of its business model but because Americans like football. If people didn’t like the game, the best business model in the world wouldn’t be able to make it any more popular that soccer is.

What’s the second-most popular sport out there? It’s college football, which has very little revenue sharing. Sure, the conferences share TV and bowl revenues among their members. But when Michigan and Notre Dame hook up in The Big House, we don’t see a dime of the millions that such an event generates going to Wake Forest or Vanderbilt. Northwestern, being in the Big Ten, gets a few bucks thrown its way but by far the main financial beneficiaries of such an affair are the participants. And if a rich alum cuts a check for $10 million to have the field named after him, none of that gets shared with anyone outside of the university. Yet the sport thrives because Americans love the game.

And the people of western New York love the game too, perhaps as much as anyone in America, and it’s unfortunate that the Bills may end up moving, to Los Angeles or elsewhere. However, to blame that situation on Kraft, Snyder, and Jones is patently ridiculous. As a Rust Belt city, Buffalo has been in decline for a couple of decades now, perhaps longer. Population and the economy are shifting to the south. That’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just the way that things are. The Redskins and the Cowboys could pour all kinds of money into the Bills and that wouldn’t change these facts. If the city of Buffalo can’t support an NFL team, it’s certainly not up to the cities of Washington, Boston, and Dallas to do it for them.

Wilson isn’t just enlisting allies in the media; he is turning to where most corporations looking for a handout do, the government. All-Pro Buffalo linebacker Cornelius Bennett never put a hurtin’ on anyone like the last person to get between Chuck Schumer and an TV camera got, so he was eager to jump into the fray. A Buffalo congressman named Higgins wants to have a committee hearing to investigate the revenue sharing plan. I’ve been looking through the US Constitution to find out where the Congress has any express or implied powers to ensure that a sports franchise can stay in a particular city. I’m also trying to find out where they will find all of the time and resources needed to conduct such an inquiry. Your tax dollars at work.

When times are tough, one can hunker down, get tough, and try to figure out a way to deal with it, or one can whine and cry and get someone to threaten a congressional hearing and find a bogeyman. Wilson and his media mouthpiece have, of course, chosen the latter.

Credit the late commissioner Pete Rozelle, who sold a socialist concept to a bunch of capitalist owners on the grounds that parity pads everybody’s profits.

One by one, richer owners broke ranks to go for more of the gold. Dallas’ Jones was the first to exploit the loophole of unshared revenue from luxury boxes. The me-first principle prompted a glut of new stadiums filled with luxury seats (or hefty upgrades of old ballparks) that cost taxpayers in NFL cities billions of dollars.

The rich got richer, and they don’t want to share their excess with their (relatively) poorer brethren. It threatens the competitive balance that turned the NFL into a money-printing machine.

Conveniently left out here is the fact that the stadium that Snyder’s team plays in was built by the team and that he is currently making heft payments on it and that Kraft had to kick in on the construction of the Patriots’ stadium and that Jones will likely have to help pay for a new stadium in Dallas. Apparently, the concept of “excess” when it comes to money only takes into account the revenue side of the picture and ignores the expense side. I guess it’s like that when you play in a 100% taxpayer-financed stadium.

And speaking of excess, how about this: Wilson paid $25,000 for the Bills. He could sell them tomorrow for something in the neighborhood of $800 million. The value of his investment has increased by a factor of 32,000. Wouldn’t a profit of $799,750,000 have to be considered to be excessive, even over the course of 45 years or so? That’s over $17 million a year in appreciation alone. You’re telling me that’s not excessive?

Wilson warns, “Don’t buy all of that stuff that the league’s PR machine puts out.”

Don’t buy in to all of the “woe is me” spin that Wilson is putting on his current situation, either.

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