The NFL in 2011: A Football Odyssey

Don ZakCorrespondent IAugust 27, 2009

NEW YORK - JULY 27:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions from the media after reinstating Michael Vick on a conditional basis on July 27, 2009 at the InterContinental Hotel in New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Epic changes are on the horizon for the NFL as owners and players appear ready to draw battle lines over the end of the union contract in 2011.  Codenamed “Lockout”, each side is already blasting rhetoric-like volleys across the war zone.   


Most fans will be caught unprepared in the “No-Man’s-Land” during this conflict. Confused between supporting veterans rights against owners, disappointed fans won’t stomach paying to watch scrubs play or worse yet, watch nothing as owners lock their stadiums and athletes stand in picket lines.


What evil would cause this to America’s Game for an entire season?


Money, unfortunately, is at the root of the issue.  For the past 16 years, the collective bargaining agreement devilishly allocates a 60/40 percent gross revenue split favoring players over owners.  Owners recently voted to not extend the agreement. 


What is being fought over this time isn’t as simple as who eats the larger “slice of the pie chart.”


With $8 billion in league revenue, owners demand more gross revenue as the economics of their operational costs rise to field more competitive teams. The union won’t surrender hard won recent gains.


Both sides have valid reasons and the financial data to support them. Neither side is willing to surrender without extracting the maximum amount of revenue from the other.


A 10 percent shift in gross league revenue represents a sacrifice by one side of nearly $800 million. In pie chart terms that is larger than the GDP of the Solomon Islands and 42 other developing countries. 


Owners clearly want to renegotiate a new agreement in 2011. After only two meetings this past year, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith have increased tensions over a potential player lockout.   


If the league and the union do agree to make sweeping financial changes but create a negative impact on fans, will any of this matter? Both sides must appeal to loyal fans in order to hold the upper hand at the high stakes negotiating table.


Heavily indebted owners are clearly pandering to the criticism of fans who detest the preseason as a waste of time. They propose expanding the regular season to 18 games because offseason workouts and supplemental training makes four preseason games obsolete.   


Never mind that the increased revenue from TV and ticket sales gives the NFL and owners two more prime-time weeks to bombard fans with automobile, beer and drug commercials. 


The NFLPA wants to reverse the current skewered contract system that rewards unproven rookies by making them amongst the highest-paid players.  This position equally enrages fans when unproven rookies, lots of them busts, consume precious team dollars and salary cap room.


Initially, the league and the union both appear to be giving fans what they want. 


Imagine a not-too-distant future draft day where contract holdouts by collegiate players are a thing of the past and league-wide pay equality creates a utopia of player happiness. A land where owners don’t automatically raise ticket prices and $100 “premium” game-day parking is replaced by “first-come-first-served” parking.


Surely this would be a futuristic vision we all could share in.