The NFL and the NFLPA: The Significance of the Current Collective Bargaining Process and a Collection of Relevant Legal and Ethical Issues (Part 3: What SI’s Peter King calls “The Billion-Dollar Give Back.”)

The players' union is flexing its muscles as it prepares for a CBA process that most likely will not be resolved until after March 2011.

A Collection of Issues Revolving Around a New Collective Bargaining

Agreement – The Owners vs. The Players’ Union

__________

1 – What Peter King of Sports Illustrated dubs, “The Billion-Dollar Give Back.”

a)            The Owners’ Perspective

Team owners argue that player costs are too high and that revenue-sharing must be rolled back for several reasons.  First, owners state that stadium financing in the NFL has changed drastically over the last thirty years.  According to Peter King, Giants Stadium cost $78 million in 1976 and was paid with public funding (King, 2010, p. 45).  However, the New Meadowlands Stadium hosted its first NFL game during the 2010-2011 season and cost the Giants and Jets $1.6 billion with “practically no public funding” (King, 2010, p. 45).  Since the cost of either new stadiums or renovations have increased while public funding has not climbed at the same rate, owners are asking players to subtract another $1 billion from the revenue-sharing pool and allow the owners to allocate those funds to stadium renovation/construction, thereby increasing the exempt amount to $2.4 billion (King, 2010, p.45).

Players benefit from working in modern facilities, since newer stadiums usually include amenities that help the team generate revenue and improve the fan experience.  With new stadiums in Dallas and New York/New Jersey, team owners in other cities feel pressure to catch up to a new wave of modernization and need help meeting expectations.  Such pressure arrives from a myriad of sources, including the commissioner himself.  “The bar has been raised because you’re getting great facilities around the country in great communities… [Super Bowls] are a tremendous value to the communities, so there’s a lot of competition for [them].  So I think a new stadium with [sic] this great community would be beneficial to bringing another Super Bowl to this community” (Associated Press, 2010).  Though local officials and Atlanta Falcons ownership are currently discussing the costs of modifications to the state-owned, 72,000-seat Georgia Dome, the cost would place added pressure on team owners and taxpayers to raise capital without player assistance.  “That’s one of the reasons we’re focused on restructuring the collective bargaining agreement, to make sure that we have the kind of structure that will allow us to make those kind [sic] of investments in the game and the communities which allow the game to continue to grow… That is good for the players, good for the teams, good for the communities [sic].  That’s something we want to continue to focus on,” added Goodell (Associated Press, 2010).

Without financial support from the players, local governments may be pressured to

Atlanta's Georgia Dome: one of several "outdated" NFL stadiums eclipsed by the new palaces of technology in Dallas and New York.

contribute higher amounts of capital than ever before to stadium construction plans.  After local media plays both sides of the argument over public stadium financing, residents usually side with the owners after local news outlets sympathize with teams.  One example is Norman Braman, a Miami businessman who struggled to prevent the use of public funds to finance construction of the new Florida Marlins’ stadium in an impoverished Miami neighborhood, but failed after local media eventually took a softer stance on team owners and government officials partial to the Marlins’ cause.

b)            Arguments for the Players’ Union

In response to owners’ calls to lower player costs (i.e. players salaries), NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith asked, “How do I go in front of my players with information from Forbes [stating] that teams average $31 million in profit and justify an 18% pay cut” (Dividing Line is Drawn, p. 1c).  Smaller-market team owners depend on revenue-sharing between teams to maintain viability – this issue is also one of the most heated in the debate over the CBA, according to notes taken at a lecture by Northwestern University Sports Administration Professor Roy Kessel.  Under a new CBA, owners hope to reduce player costs by $1 billion dollars and offset inter-team revenue-sharing costs as much as possible and lessen dependence by smaller-market teams on their more affluent colleagues.  In spite of decreased profits/net income, teams in San Francisco, Minnesota, Oakland, and Atlanta are making overtures for new stadiums or renovations; nevertheless, they claim “financial hardship” as they apparently plan for these elective costs.

Since 1990 and in spite of recent claims of financial hardship and escalating player

Since it is publicly owned, the Green Bay Packers (right) are the only NFL team required by law to disclose its yearly financial statements.

costs, 28 of all NFL teams have either moved into new stadiums, completed renovations, or are currently in the planning stages (NFLPlayers.com, 2010, Taxpayer Subsidies for NFL Stadiums).  The average team “receives 65% of its stadium financing through taxpayer subsidies” as team values continue to rise (NFLPlayers. com, 2010). Increased elective costs, such as stadium renovations or construction, could appear irresponsible in an ailing economy.  Statistics on the NFLPA website suggest that increased dependence on public financing for stadium construction – and other high elective expenses that teams incur – as team operating revenues decrease does not signal responsible fiscal behavior.

Ownership enjoys significant leverage when issues regarding stadium financing arise.  In fact, the Minnesota Vikings’ Vice-President for Public Affairs Lester Bagley stated, “The clock is ticking, and the lease is coming due.  The state can’t afford to have us become free agents” (2010).  If teams cannot afford to build new stadiums or renovate current facilities, they should table the matter until finances improve.  In any case, if players are expected to contribute to stadium construction by taking a $1 billion pay cut, then they should have the power to influence the decision as stakeholders to build or not.  Even though players could benefit from the construction of new stadiums while under the employ of the team with the new facility, long-term benefits would only rest with management and ownership since teams could trade players away.

Essentially, the NFLPA could argue that Commissioner Roger Goodell ought to treat stadiums independently, not comparatively.  The players – and taxpayers – share no responsibility for excessive team spending while owners and the commissioner choose to invest in new facilities and operating costs, allegedly, continue to rise across the league.

President and CEO of the Green Bay Packers Mark Murphy (but I guess you already knew that from looking at the picture!)

Lastly, Chief Executive Officer of the Green Bay Packers, Mark Murphy, claims that the Packers’ “only growth in revenue in recent years has been on the national side,” according to the team’s 2009 financial statements (Kuriloff, 2010).  However, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau’s 1999 audit of the Green Bay Packers’ books between 1995 and 1999, the Packers’ annual net income ranged between $5.4 and $7.1 million, respectively, and retained earnings nearly doubled from 1995 ($40.5 million) to 1999 ($76.2 million) (Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau, 1999).  With 2009 net income at $5.2 million – a 30% increase from 2008 – (Kuriloff, 2010) the Green Bay Packers did not appear to be worse off in 2009 than they were 15 years ago.  As Troy Aikman points out, “owners claim they can’t keep up with player salaries.  Yet [sic] the Redskins’ Daniel Snyder reaches into his pockets and gives [Albert] Haynesworth a $100 million deal” (Aikman, 2009).  Former NFL punter Nick Murphy also disagrees with owners and wrote, “player expenses increased only 4 percent in 2009 and only half of that was salary-related.  From 1996 to 2007, the average NFL owner increased a franchise’s value by $693 million (338 percent) [and] according to Forbes magazine, player expenditures have nothing at all to do with the first decrease in NFL club valuations in 12 years” (Murphy, 2010).

Pete Kendall, “permanent player representative” for the NFLPA at CBA bargaining sessions, adds to the union’s argument by stating in a memorandum to NFL players that “the current salary cap system provides a percentage cap on the amount of football related revenue to be spent on player salaries and benefits” and that even though percentages of total revenue shared with players will remain the same, the league’s new definition of “total revenue” would decrease the money in that account and thus lower yearly distributions to players (DiTullio, 2010).

Without financial statements or audits from the other 31 teams, the players’ union has insufficient evidence to determine the league’s “need” – an essential set of details missing from the debate regarding a possible $1 billion pay cut.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Read Part 2 at: Part 2

Read Part 1 at: Part 1

 

Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian, seen here with Peyton Manning (right) and former Colts backup Jim Sorgi (left).

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