NFL labor problems go beyond field

On opening day of the NFL season last Thursday, there was a sight to be seen after the National Anthem concluded. Players from both New Orleans and Minnesota sidelines raised their index fingers into the air signifying solidarity in support of the union in collective bargaining negotiations. While watching the game, I really had no idea what that meant until later when they mentioned that it dealt with the players’ union. This past Sunday, audiences at half the games witnessed a similar sight, but fan reaction to this gesture was mixed.

In Orchard Park, home of the Buffalo Bills, many fans in the crowd caught on, and they too placed their fingers into the air. Still, in other cities, some reactions were boos from the crowd as fans recognized a “millionaires vs. billionaires” fight between owners and players. Even though this event has been noted in the media, not many bothered to explain the entire situation because in-depth knowledge on the issues was “not interesting news”.

Willingness to understand these intricacies by the average football fan is not to be expected. As long as his team shows up to play on Sundays, nothing else matters. But these dealings will affect fans if the negotiations result in a lockout or strike.

Both the owners and players have valid excuses in this negotiation situation, but the main issue comes down to lack of money. This past season is the first time in 12 years where the average worth of NFL teams has dropped (two percent). Such losses can be easily absorb by large-market teams like the Dallas Cowboys which are worth $1.8 billion. Other smaller teams have taken a greater loss to value such as the Jacksonville Jaguars at $725 million, dropping 16 percent from last year.

The Jaguars had a local blackout on TV for seven of their eight home games, and if such a trend continues, they will have to relocate. All in all, each team is a business whose value reflects how much money it makes. Without a suitable way to increase profit, a business venture such as a football franchise is not the way these organizations want to run.

Players receive approximately 60 percent of the revenue that is made from these teams each year, and to save some of this lost money a drop to 50 percent payouts is one of the solutions. Another has been to increase the season by two games to generate more income.

From a fan’s perspective a longer season at first seems like a great idea. There is nothing better than having more football games to cheer for. The NFL Players Association does not like this idea because it wants to look out for the health of the athletes, a more important factor than the raise in salaries from additional weeks. Two more games means more injuries and risks to these players bodies. In fact, the overwhelming number of injuries in only this first week of football to big-name athletes like Ryan Grant, Bob Sanders and Kevin Kolb give the players more leverage in this dispute. With more games, there will be more injuries, which means bigger roster sizes, a need for rules in greater roster flexibility and more players to pay.

On the actual salary position of the debate, the giant size of the contracts for players can be viewed as a singular corporation. A single star has to pay a legal team, attorneys and agents, public relations representatives, trainers and the immediate and distant family members. Even with huge salaries, a huge cut is taken to support each one of these groups. This doesn’t take into account the money it takes to retire with a potential for future health problems due to the sport. With less money allocated to the players themselves, the biggest financial strain will be placed upon the players that linger at the bottom of the depth charts. Star players will continue to get more money and bigger contracts while a significant amount more under contract will get base minimums. The gap between star players and integral special teams players’ salaries will be unheard of.

Without a bargaining agreement in place this year, tensions have raised, even in the first week of the season. If one cannot be set in place soon, there is a possibility of a holdout and no play in 2011.

Both sides need to come together and make an agreement at some point, not necessarily for their own reasons, but because of the economy in the regions around them. NFL employees, vendors and businesses in the cities surrounding these stadia rely on the league’s games and excitement to support them during the season and not having one will be a giant blow in an already economically unstable climate.