NFL MEETINGS : Owners Take a Look at Revenue Sharing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As an idea, revenue sharing didn't fly in baseball, but it is alive and well in pro basketball. On the first day of their annual convention this week, pro football's club owners began looking into it Sunday.

No NFL owner would talk about revenue plans or possibilities for the record. But a source said that one option under consideration would bring a 28-club sharing of gate receipts and television revenue, with about half going to owners and half to players.

By contrast, in the NBA's labor contract the money pool includes all receipts--with 53% as the players' share--and, to prove good faith, the clubs' financial books are shown to player representatives.

Most NFL owners vigorously object to opening their books publicly. Thus the proposal to solve their labor impasse by using only gate and TV income. The reasoning is that these are easy to quantify.

Moreover, by far the largest source of NFL income is from tickets sales and TV. Those in favor of the idea contend that there would be enough cash in such a pool to work out an accommodation with the NFL Players Assn., bringing labor peace--which owners define as their first priority.

The subject came up in recent months in informal discussions among various owners, and it reached the convention floor here, a source said, for these reasons:

--In negotiations with the networks, the NFL has nearly doubled its television revenue for each team from $17 million last year to more than $32 million this year.

--Every time the league's television income has risen in recent decades, the players have eventually taken most of it. "The players are now getting--in salaries and benefits--about 63% of our take," George Young, general manager of the New York Giants, said.

--Revenue sharing would mean that, this time, the owners would keep more of what they've earned in TV negotiations.

--It likely would satisfy the players, who proposed it.

The league has been without a collective bargaining agreement since 1987, when the players sought a free-agency stipulation that displeased the owners.

Implicit in revenue sharing is some form of free agency, plus a payroll cap along with methods for determining many--if not most--salaries.

The alternative, some owners are saying, is a salary war with most clubs acting independently. They say this would shortly drain away all the fruits of the new television agreements.

"Sixteen of the (NFL's) 28 clubs lost money last year," Art Modell, president of the Cleveland Browns, said.

That was only three years after the 1987 TV contract seemed the saving of many franchises, bringing in a three-year record $1.428 billion--or $17 million per club.

One ironic difference between baseball and football is their approach to revenue sharing. In baseball, the owners want it, but the players don't. In football, the owners have been against it--at least until lately--but the players will accept it.

Both sports are without labor contracts.

The NFL's owners voted, 28-0, Sunday to ratify Commissioner Paul Tagliabue's new network contracts, which will enrich them by $3.64 billion in the next four years--or what they're saying is $32.5 million per club each season.

That's more than twice the $14.4 million that each baseball club is receiving annually from its new TV contract. In the NBA contract, television pays each team an annual $8.1 million.

Tagliabue said that the average NFL team spent about $35 million on all expenses, including player salaries, last year--meaning that, at the moment, television will be paying most of the bills.

"(Pending) salary escalation," Modell said.

The commissioner also said he has found strong NFL sentiment to permanently cut the pre-Super Bowl time period from two weeks to one.

"We'll experiment with it both ways in the next two years," he said. "There will be a one-week break ahead of the Super Bowl (in 1991), and two weeks ahead of the (Minneapolis Super Bowl) in 1992. We'll see which is the most (popular)."

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