Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NFL fans could turn princes into paupers

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Now that the NFL and the NFL Players Association have begun a week of negotiation to hammer out a new CBA in an attempt to avert a potential lockout, you have to wonder if they are beginning to learn from the labour negotiation failures of the NHL and Major League Baseball.

Then again, they may have extended their talks simply because they were embarrassed when U.S. President Barack Obama commented that, "I'm a big football fan, but I also think that for an industry that's making $9 billion a year in revenue, they can figure out how to divide it up in a sensible way."

Either way, right now in Washington D.C., there are some powerful men negotiating on behalf of their constituents.

Roger Goodell is the commissioner of the NFL and is arguing on behalf of the NFL owners, otherwise known as the billionaires. DeMaurice Smith is the president of the NFL Players Association, and is negotiating on behalf of the players, otherwise known as the multi-millionaires.

The amazing reality of this situation, however, is that the most important and powerful group of all is not in that room, has not been granted access to it and is not being represented at all: the typical NFL fan.

In my mind, the best way to get this deal done is to force both the owners and the players association to focus on a hypothetical variable while in their negotiations.

When Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith are passing notes and speaking to each other through the mediator, they need to imagine that there is another representative joining them in that room.

The one that represents the fans of the NFL.


RG (Roger Goodell): "DeMaurice, we want $2 billion off the top of the $9-billion revenue pie, we want to reduce the percentage of the players' share, we want 18 regular-season games a year and we want to scale back rookie earnings out of the NFL draft."

DS (DeMaurice Smith): "Roger, you are out of your mind. The NFL is making more money now than it ever has before and you want to pay the players less and work them more? You are fining the... out of my players for dangerous contact because you say you are worried about their safety, but you want them to play two more games in the regular season? There is no way you get to take more and pay us less!

RG: "Well DeMaurice, if you do not think our requests are reasonable you will find yourself locked out and the owners will wait until the players spend their way back to the bargaining table."

DS: "I told the players to save 25 per cent of their salaries in 2009, and 25 per cent of their salaries in 2010 to prepare for this possibility. If the average salary in the NFL is $700,000 a season, my players should have stockpiled at least $350,000 by now -- before taxes. So we should be good for at least three months. And remember, if you lock us out we will decertify as a union and Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees will sue your... in an antitrust lawsuit."

FR (Fan Representative): "Excuse me gentlemen, but I can see this is going nowhere fast."

RG: "Who is this guy?"

FR: "I am the fan representative and the reason you and DeMaurice are lucky enough to have the problem of squabbling over $9 billion, so give it a rest."

DS: "You dig our game don't you Fan Rep!"

FR: "DeMaurice, I need you to check out -- and listen to what I have to say. I represent the entirety of the fans of the National Football League. We are the ones who buy the tickets, the merchandise and watch the games. Without us, your revenues are zero."

RG: "Well that's not entirely true. If there is no NFL next year the owners will still get to split up $4 billion from the TV networks, so we really don't need you either."

FR: "Roger, you are pissing me off and you better stop interrupting me. Let me tell you how it is. You two rich... stay in this room and figure it out ASAP, and understand this. If you leave this room without a deal being reached, the fans are locking you out. We will not attend, watch, or buy anything that has anything to do with the NFL anymore once you reconvene. We are tired of you taking us for granted and assuming our interest will never wane. You will remember back to the days when you had a CBA and revenue to divide up and call them the golden years."

RG: "DeMaurice, could they really do that?"

DS: "If they had the ability to organize, and the solidarity to take action and be heard, we would be at their mercy and every whim."

If only it were so.


Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2011 D2

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