NFL Owners’ Greed, Hypocrisy Clouds Their Finest Hour

Chris Landers, Sports Editor

As the confetti streamed down onto the victorious Green Bay Packers at the end of Super Bowl XLV, the National Football League and its fans should have been rejoicing. The Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers — arguably the two most storied franchises in the game — had just played one of the tightest contests in recent memory. An eminently marketable star was born in Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. A whopping 111 million people tuned in to the game, making it the most watched event in American television history. And yet, during the league’s finest hour, that confetti in the air felt more like a storm cloud.

On Mar. 4, the league’s collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the players’ union will expire, meaning there will be no football until a compromise is reached. With the amount of inflammatory rhetoric coming from both sides, a compromise does not look forthcoming. Right now, the only thing that can slow down the economic freight train that is the NFL is the NFL itself. It’s time for the adults to come forward and solve this, and most of the blame for the huge gap between the two sides has to fall at the feet of the owners.

I should preface this argument by saying I realize how ridiculous the situation is. These are millionaires arguing with billionaires over who will end up slightly less obscenely rich, all while playing a kid’s game. I get it. That being said, here’s why the players are in the right (and right, in this case, is a very relative term).

The debate can more or less be boiled down to two issues, both of which are demands from the owners: redistribution of revenue and a longer regular season.

The owners are asking for an extra 18 percent of total annual revenue — a total of $1 billion — because they are allegedly losing money due to increased operating costs, despite a decade of unprecedented prosperity for the NFL. Yet the owners refuse to open their books to the players to prove that they’re losing money.

The only team that has released financial records is the Packers, who are legally obligated to do so because they are a publicly owned franchise. Oddly enough, Green Bay’s finances tell a different story than the owners. The last two seasons, the team has averaged a net profit of over $4 million. From 2003–2008, that number was an unfathomable $20 million. Keep in mind that those profits were posted in a city with a population of about 100,000, by far the smallest of any team in the NFL.

The owners are essentially asking the players to hand over one billion dollars without offering any justification. The owners are the ones handing out irresponsibly overpriced contracts to undeserving players. Football is far and away this country’s most popular sport and the NFL should be a cash cow by default. The Carolina Panthers, who finished with a dreadful 2–14 record last season, still had an average attendance of over 70,000 people per game. That’s not to mention the lucrative TV deals struck with networks like FOX and CBS, and none of that money goes to the players. If a team is bleeding cash, a hypothetical without any basis in fact, it has no one but its shortsighted owner to blame.

The hypocrisy of the owners doesn’t end there. The other main point of contention has been the desire of the owners to add two extra games to the current 16-game regular season schedule. The league has cited the possible increase in revenue as well as the public’s disdain for preseason games as reasons for the move.

However, the lack of tolerance for preseason games is just that: a lack of tolerance for preseason games. Just because fans don’t want to watch — much less pay to see — third-string players battle it out in August doesn’t mean they’re clamoring for more regular season football. In fact, a recently released poll showed lukewarm support at best for the longer season. The league and the owners are trying to force a correlation between the two because of the extra cash that one more home game would generate.

The proposed schedule also flies directly in the face of the league’s movement to ensure the long-term health of its players. Commissioner Roger Goodell instituted stricter rules regarding on-field hits, levying severe fines of up to $125,000 to players who endangered others with blows to the head. The NFL has also been under fire regarding its policies on concussions and lack of health benefits for retired players.

How then, in light of this increased awareness of the importance of player safety spearheaded by the league itself, can an extended regular season be feasible? The players’ reaction has been predictable, with most agreeing that risking their bodies for two more paychecks simply isn’t worth it.

What could possibly be the justification for these demands? Pure and simple greed. The owners aren’t losing money; in fact, they’re riding the wave of an economic golden goose that has grown into a $9 billion industry in spite of a recession. The owners couldn’t care less about player safety as long as it doesn’t conflict with the bottom line.

These are billionaires whose egos have been hurt, and their reaction has been incredibly immature. This shouldn’t be about how many zeros you can add to your net worth, it’s about putting a great product out for fans to enjoy and letting players prosper safely. Every action taken by ownership has been a thinly veiled attempt to exact revenge on the players’ union and add to already unfathomable riches. This should be the time where the NFL takes its popularity to new heights, and the league can’t get out of its own way because of the hypocrisy and greed of its owners.