If the wildly overpaid NFL owners don’t back off their greedy and unreasonable demands of the slightly less wildly overpaid professional football players, I hope the players go on strike.
And if they end up working it out, I hope the fans go on strike. And most importantly, I hope the mayors and governors of cash-strapped states and municipalities go on strike—or at least, perform the financial equivalent of the lockout the NFL owners are threatening against the players.
One wonders what goes on in the heads of the owners, who are demanding an even bigger share of the league’s $9 billion in annual revenues. Yes, the players (many of them, anyway) make ridiculous amounts of money, and it’s galling for those fans who make a great deal less for a hard day’s work—or maybe aren’t making anything, since they’re unemployed—to see packs of men in pads and tight pants make millions for playing a game. But compare that to the cozy deal the owners have: They get about $1.3 billion in expenses off the top, and then about 40 percent of the revenues after that, with the rest going to pay for player salaries. Now, the owners want another $1 billion off the top. [Check out a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]
You can see how they could lose perspective. After all, the owners continued to make pots of money in one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression. Fans ponied up absurd amounts of money for tickets and concessions and parking. Not all the owners can be credited with building a business up from the ground, either; some inherited the sweet deal. And the work isn’t all that difficult: While players are suffering concussions and injuries on the field during their short careers, the owners’ main health concern is getting vertigo in those luxury sky boxes. Fans might show up to see a quarterback make a beautiful touchdown pass if the team ownership changes, but no one’s going to come to the stadium, even for free, just to watch an owner smoke cigars in a skybox.
The choice between the owners and the players is an easy one, but the money involved in the sport is already well out of control and needs to be reined in. Average ticket prices rose 4.5 percent last year to $76.47, and the average price of a resold ticket was $100. That’s truly a fleecing, but it’s not as egregious as the financial extortion committed against local governments, which have offered up tax breaks and new stadiums to keep owners from moving the team to another locale. Remarkably, political leaders who would insist it is counter-productive to negotiate with terrorists are still willing to be held hostage by franchise owners. [Take the U.S. News poll: Were you impressed by this year's Super Bowl ads?]
Ideally, the teams would follow the example of the Super Bowl-winning Green Bay Packers and be run as nonprofits owned by the city residents. The players have organized to protect their rights. It’s time the fans and host cities did the same thing.