Don’t worry, there will be an NFL season
Whether I am talking to the toll-taker on the 73 toll road, eating at the Cheesecake Factory, working out at 24 Hour Fitness or standing in the lobby of the Regal Theatres, each person approaches me with anxiety and a frown and says “Oh, it’s you, will there be an NFL Season?!”
I would like to provide a community service for all NFL fans living on Don’t worry, there will be an NFL season the West Coast, to help drop the anxiety level dramatically. Yes, there will be a normal NFL season!
Pigs will fly and the world will end before the NFL commits a monumental act of self destruction. Promising discussions between the players and the NFL have begun again and the lockout may end soon.
The NFL is the dominant form of sports entertainment in this country in every poll by a two-to-one margin. It is America’s passion. This popularity rests in large measure on the fact that there has been uninterrupted play since 1987.
All of the energy of owners and the NFLPA has gone into building the brand of the NFL and creating incredible ancillary revenue streams — NFL Network, Direct TV’s Season Ticket, naming rights, overseas play, fantasy football. The strikes and labor hassles which have crippled other sports, driving away fans and retarding their development, is a lesson that the NFL has learned.
I have always maintained that the real battle for the NFL is not labor versus management. It is competition with MLB, the NBA, HBO, Disney World and every other form of discretionary entertainment spending, force feeding fans with an unremitting diet of economics and labor strife is suicidal.
My job in negotiations was to have players sit at press conferences announcing their signing with no controversy — emphasizing their charitable and community programs and hopes to help the team. I was always aware that with a median family income of $50,000, it made no sense to complain publicly about the size of a contract.
The “good old days” of massive economics in the NFL are now. In 1976, Seattle and Tampa Bay entered the league with a purchase price of 16.5 million dollars, in 1995 Carolina and Jacksonville entered with purchase prices of 130 dollars. Today, the average franchise is worth one billion dollars.
TV revenue has soared, and the teams that received 2 million dollars in 1976 from network television now receive 130 million. Revenue comes from marketing, sponsorships, memorabilia and luxury boxes. Player compensation has increased some twenty times. Who wants to be the villain to kill this golden goose?
The NFL never completes business until the last minute. I have represented 60 first-round draft picks and the number one overall pick eight times. I once called George Young, the former general manager of the New York Giants, immediately after the draft and asked if we could get started discussing the contract of the first round pick I was representing. His reply “call me in late July.”
The league’s drop-dead date of March 4 never carried enough dire consequences to motivate true bargaining. No training camp or games have been missed. The NFL and NFLPA have both been restrained in public commentary because they know that economic times are tough and this dispute will eventually settle.
There will not be a strike. Don’t confuse NFL players with the advance guard of the Bolshevik Revolution. They have short playing lives, are often sons of coaches and have deep religious beliefs. Their whole yearly salary is paid from September to January, and their contracts are not guaranteed.
The effect of missing four games is to lose a quarter of their yearly income. That is why they have chosen decertification and battling in court as their best route to gain leverage. But the victories they won before two District Court Judges in Minneapolis will not be replicated in a St. Louis court of appeals which is unsympathetic.
The only major stumbling block to the deal is the split of revenue. There won’t be an 18-game season, and there will be a salary cap on first-round rookies. Negotiation is the only way to achieve a new collective bargaining agreement.
So enjoy rooting for the Angels (since the Dodgers have taken a year off), and partake in youth sports. When you are really “ready for some football,” it will be there to keep the fall fun.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Portions of this column appeared on National Football Post.
LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or blog.steinbergsports.com.