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Give ‘Em What They Want

2011 February 8
by Randy H. Milgrom

          National Football League team owners and the NFL Players Association are deadlocked over terms for a new collective bargaining agreement. Though the existing agreement will expire on March 3, the sides have barely talked. A few meetings are scheduled, and most observers predict that indifference will turn to frenzy, as usual, as the deadline approaches. But the upcoming season clearly is in jeopardy.

          Major points of contention include how to divide $9 billion in annual revenues, setting the rookie wage and retired player benefits scales, and the owners’ desire to expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games. All but the last are perennial contract issues, and it’s the expansion push that has garnered the most media attention.

           NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell represents and works for the owners but he also oversees and disciplines players. His broad powers come with an enormous salary (which he’s pledged to forgo should the lack of bargaining result in the loss of part or all of next season) and a delicate balancing. On the crucial expansion proposal, which the players oppose, Goodell has publicly sided with neither the players’ nor the owners’ and has stumped for the fans instead.

          “We started this with the fans,” Goodell said at a recent news conference. “The fans have clearly stated that they don’t like the preseason. We have … 16 regular season games and four preseason games, and the fans have repeatedly said the preseason games don’t meet NFL standards. And that is the basis on which we … [are]… taking two low-quality preseason games and turning them into two high-quality regular season games.”

          The only problem with this reasoning it that it appears not to be true. All fan surveys — and there have been many — reveal an extremely low level of support for regular season expansion. The players oppose it on the basis that it constitutes more work for the same pay, among other reasons. And everyone knows that televsion revenues — the primary financial driver of this multi-billion dollar industry — are based on regular season and playoff games, not exhibition contests.

          So it’s about the money. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But that’s not a message Goodell could productively deliver to his fans — especially when they’re the only ones who won’t be receiving any of it.

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