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NFL Lockout: When Do We Start to Panic?

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By Ross Mandel on March 17, 2011

For all the talk about the 18-game schedule, a rookie wage scale, and draft protests, we all know what this latest battle between the NFL’s owners and players is all about: money.

Specifically, the massive amount of revenue generated by the NFL. That would be nine billion dollars, give or take a few million, which comes from the league’s TV contract, tickets, merchandise, etc.

The players, before this latest snafu, received 60% of the pot, once that pot was de-sweetened by around a billion dollars by the owners. Still, that’s 60% of around eight billion dollars. Not bad…for either side. Now, however, things have changed. The owners are tired of getting the short end of the very long stick — they want to double the money off the top and/or reduce the players’ percentage of the overall take. These demands come just five years after the owners freely signed on to a deal in 2006. If the current deal was so awful, why’d they agree to it?

Since then there have been several stadia built costing several billion dollars. The owners who have laid out the megabucks for those monstrosities have serious debt, so it makes sense that they need additional revenue. However, the fact that they need it doesn’t mean they’re entitled to take it from their employees. If the place at which you worked had to build a new building, would the owner expect you to pay for it? That’s essentially what Jerry Jones and his cronies are doing. Furthermore, the average value of an NFL franchise is more than a billion dollars. Did any of the current owners pay anywhere near that much for their current team?

How long did it take this collection of owners to realize that the deal they inked five years ago was a bad one for them? A week? A year? It wasn’t too much more than that because they’ve clearly been stockpiling cash in anticipation of exactly what’s taking place now: a lockout.

Each side knew this was going to happen long ago. So why didn’t they take steps to resolve it before now? Because neither side was willing to sacrifice anything without the threat of lost revenue staring them in the face. And that’s simply not happening yet. That’s why we’re seeing all of this posturing and listening to the endless rhetoric. It’s nothing more than the trash talk before a big fight. It’s entertaining…until it’s not. Then it becomes annoying to the point where fans get sick of it, and then it’s time to panic about losing games.

The owners don’t have to worry about lost game revenue nearly as much as the players do. They have deeper pockets, and both sides know it. The owners are united. The players aren’t. Again, the owners have the hammer. What the owners need to worry about is the anti-trust exemption and the lawsuits that will be heard beginning on April 6th. The owners know that their “single entity” status is a fragile one; certainly an argument can be made that the NFL is a collection of 32 individual corporations. That’s what’s keeping owners up at night. Are they willing to roll the dice on a high-court ruling on this issue? The courts aren’t likely to be as owner-friendly on this as they have been in the past. There exists a genuine possibility that the league could lose its anti-trust exemption. That’s the players’ leverage, and both sides know it.

So now what? Are fans supposed to sit around and worry? Not yet. If July rolls around and there’s been no progress made, perhaps then we can worry. All we can do now is roll our eyes when we see Roger Goodell or DeMaurice Smith on our televisions, shake our heads at idiotic comments made by Adrian Peterson, be impressed with the thoughtful comments of Vonnie Holliday, wonder if any shenanigans are going to take place at the draft, speculate on who our teams should take with their draft picks…and wait.

Ross Mandel is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, the editor-in-chief of NFLDraftBible.com, and co-host of a weekly online radio show. You can read his full HV archive here.

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