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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lockout Underscores Owners’ Lack of Respect for NFL Fans

By Jon Wagner-Sr. Writer-Football Reporters Online

The clock finally struck midnight on Friday night, and now, while talk of March Madness and Cinderellas are in full swing, the 2011 NFL season is in realistic jeopardy of turning into a pumpkin.

One week after the original March 4th deadline for ironing out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was extended, NFL owners officially closed up shop and locked out their players, effectively shutting down the league (other then next month’s NFL draft) until further notice.

Sadly, it’s those who are most responsible for the insanely huge amounts of money that NFL owners and players are quibbling over – NFL fans – who will suffer the most unless the upcoming season is saved.

Duping their loyal fans, NFL owners have taken a page (and then some) from a 1989 film about another sport, the classic baseball movie, “Field of Dreams.”

Most of us know the story. Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella hears the whispers… “If you build it, they will come.”

That’s exactly what NFL owners did with over-the-top, extravagant new stadiums.

Except, they went one step further, with the unfortunate notion that in the NFL, “If you build it, they will come… and when they do, you can try to shake every last dollar you can out of not only the fans who show up, but from the players the fans will pay exorbitant amounts to come see.”

And, that’s all while putting the financial burden of building those shiny new stadiums largely upon those same fans.

Yes, that is the sad state of affairs in today’s NFL for the average NFL fan.

Not only do fans, as taxpayers, shoulder much of the cost of new stadiums like Jerry Jones’ Cowboys Stadium (often dubbed the “Dallas Palace”), or the Giants’ and Jets’ New Meadowlands stadium (each having come with price tags in excess of $1.6 billion), but those same fans are asked to pay thousands of dollars in Personal Seat Licences just to have the right to buy tickets to watch games in them.

If that wasn’t enough, now loyal remaining season ticketholders who weren’t priced out (by PSL’s) of buying tickets to see their favorite teams play, can’t even do that, because of the unyielding collective ego and greed on the part of NFL owners.

That’s not to say that the NFL’s current labor issues are all one-sided. Every dispute has both opposing parties which are usually at least somewhat at fault.

However, it’s the players who really just want to give the fans what they want – to play football -- under the current CBA specifications that the owners agreed to themselves, years ago. That agreement was fine for NFL owners until that no longer became convenient in the face of the owners trying to squeeze every last dollar out of both the NFL Players’ Association and NFL fans.

The simple fact is, the owners can’t fully be trusted.

Only now, after the NFLPA has been forced to decertify and involve the threat of a possible court injunction, are NFL owners beginning to open their books to any extent at all (and even at that, they won’t be opened far enough to justify the extra $1 billion and greater portion of shared revenues along with an increase to an 18-game regular season schedule that NFL owners are seeking).

But, the reason for the mistrust of NFL owners goes beyond that, back to the stadium issue.

Under the guise of “parternership” to win public support, NFL owners have secured more than $4.4 billion in taxpayer money for 21 new or renovated stadiums (nearly two-thirds of the league’s stadiums) since 1995.

The reality is that of the $2 billion teams claim they are investing in stadiums, about $1 billion comes from NFL loans and PSL’s, two sources where the dollars come either exclusively, or at least mostly, from fans.

A particular case like the Chicago Bears’ Soldier Field renovation shows what the NFL’s “parternship” with the public for financing new NFL stadiums really means.

The Bears pledged to pay $200 million of Soldier Field’s $632 million renovation, but when all was said and done, thanks again, to partially fan-financed NFL loans and to fan-paid PSL’s, the final cost to Bears’ ownership for the renovation was less than $30 million.

It’s no different around the league. Over the next 30 years, taxpayers in NFL cities will pay more than $2 billion in interest payments on bonds that were used to raise public money for NFL stadiums.

And, thanks to a deal worked out with the U.S. government, while fans are helping to finance NFL stadium through paying their own taxes, NFL owners collect PSL money on a tax-exempt basis.

The bottom line is that the players just want to play. But, NFL owners want yet more money despite having already asked for billions from NFL fans to help finance new stadiums that ironically are supposed to be fan-friendly. Yet, despite all of the state-of-the-art amenities, how “fan-friendly” can it really be when those same fans are also being asked for thousands of additional dollars per seat in the form of PSL’s?

And, how much more can possibly be asked of NFL fans, who simply want their sport back in time for Week 1 of the regular season in September (or for that matter, in time for the upcoming NFL draft and training camps)?

Adding further insult to injury was the most recent Super Bowl, in February, with yet another irony. So desperate was Jones and the NFL to cram as many fans as possible into the new Cowboys Stadium as a result of further greed (to make more money) and ego on the part of Jones (to set the Super Bowl attendance record), that temporary seating wasn’t installed in time, thereby shutting out many fans who paid about $800 each per ticket (in additional to travel expenses to the Dallas area).

While the NFL more than rectified the situation financially, those fans missed seeing the game live and became the latest casualty of the NFL putting everything else about its game before the fans who support it.

Fans, as taxpayers and now as PSL buyers, have been conditioned to paying for stadiums for millionaires to play in and keep an exclusive NFL family owners in the business of remaining as billionaires, all while the average taxpayer and hardcore NFL fan can’t afford a seat in those very stadiums.

When you look at it that way, it’s amazing that it’s not the fans who haven’t decided to stop paying or to stop showing up, and haven’t locked out the owners and players.

Ultimately, we all love the game too much for that to happen.

But, after all the fans have given to the NFL, it’s time for the NFL and its owners to give something back.

For once, NFL owners (and even players) need to realize that they would have been nothing without their fans.

And for once, they need to let their fans come first, and make sure that it’s not the fans who are the next to be locked out.

Which "NFL" Gang is Greedier? the Owners or the Players?

By David Levy-Fan Experience reporter-Football Reporters Online

When I set out to film this documentary(Gang Greed) in August of 2008, my goal to tell the fans side. To let the fans speak about what it means to be a Jets fan. How the new PSL's were going to affect their status as a season ticket holder. Were they going to invest in them or stop going to games altogether. Now, it seams, no one may be going to any games in 2011.

National Football League team owners locked out the league’s players Saturday, shutting down professional football for the first time in 24 years and plunging the nation’s most popular and prosperous sport into a time of uncertainty.

The owners acted after labor talks with the players’ union collapsed Friday afternoon and players decertified the NFL Players Association, moving the bitter dispute into the courts and ending an era of NFL labor peace that had lasted since players went on strike in 1987.

Decertifying the NFL Players Association enabled the players to file antitrust litigation against the owners, which they did late Friday, with superstar quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees among the 10 named plaintiffs. Lawyers for the players also announced that they are seeking an injunction to lift the lockout.

Some still wonder if all of this was worth the headache. Not just for the players and owners, but the fans as well. Both the Jets and Giants issued apologies to the fans for the lockout. The players feel they did what they could but were left with no other choice.

The team owners will complain they are losing money. I am sure they will have no issues paying their bills though. The income is a loss for their business, not them personally. Some younger players will feel the crunch if they are not playing. Many veteran players have investments and other business ventures that will help them get by. But in the end, they will all be on the losing end.

Does anyone really win when this happens? When the last lockout occurred in 1987, who won that battle? The players went on strike while the owners went out and hired "scabs" to play out the season. Will the team owners do the same thing this year? Probably not. They all want to get this rectified before training camp begins. The fans would like it done sooner.

For season ticket holders, they would like to know sooner than later. Many are pleased only 50% is due and not the whole bill. It gives some longer to get that money together. But knowing a season will happen is better knowing now rather than three weeks into a season. We are on the outside looking in, wondering if a sport many of us enjoy will even happen this year.

Last week Judge David S. Doty ruled that the NFL violated the collective bargaining agreement with its players by renegotiating $4.078 billion in television rights fees for team owners to tap during a lockout even if no games are played in 2011. Why should the owners be entitled to money if there is no season? Should the players get paid if they do not play?

Both sides have their issues. Many players feel the union walked away from a deal that sounded good and met their needs, despite the negative media attention towards the NFL and its owners. According to that statement the NFL released the latest proposal’s details included:

1. The NFL proposed that the two sides split the economic differences between them, increasing their proposed cap for 2011 "significantly" and accepting the NFLPA's proposed cap number for 2014, which was $161 million per team.

2. The NFL proposed an entry level compensation system that was based on the union's "rookie cap" instead of a wage scale that the clubs originally proposed. In this proposal, the players drafted from rounds 2-7 would be paid the same amount of money, or even more money, than they are paid now. The savings that would come from the first-round picks would be reallocated to help veteran players and benefits.

3. After a player is injured, the NFL would guarantee that they would pay up to $1 milllion of that player's salary for the contract year. This is the first time that the owners have offered a standard multi-year injury guarantee.

4. The following changes would be made immediately to promote player safety:

Reduce the off-season program by five weeks, reducing OTAs from 14 weeks to 10 and limiting on-field practice time and contact.

They would limit full-contact practices in the preseason and regular season

They would increase the number of off days for players

5. The NFL proposed that any change from a 16-game season to an 18-game season would only be made if the two sides agreed on the change. The 2011 and 2012 seasons would be 16-game seasons.

6. The NFL team owners would boost retirement benefits for more than 2,000 former players by nearly 60 percent by funding retirees benefits $82 million in 2011 and 2012.

7. The owners offered current players the opportunity to stay in their current medical plans for the rest of their lives.

8. The owners would allow third-party arbitrators in the NFL's drug and steroid programs.

9. The owners would improve the Mackey plan (designed for players suffering from dementia and other brain-related problems), disability plan and their degree completion bonus program.

10. The owners proposed a per-club cash minimum spend of 90 percent of the salary cap over three seasons.

Now that you know the particulars of the deal, do you still agree with the NFLPA's decision to decertify and go to court with the NFL?

Yes, the negotiations have been messy and well-publicized but progress was made before the recent burning of bridges. After having half the month of March in extensions of negotiations, both sides were reportedly off by $185 million on how much owners should get up from each season for certain operating expense before splitting up the rest of the revenues with players. That’s a far less amount than the $1 billion difference that separated the two sides earlier in discussions.

A recent poll by ProFootballTalk.com asked fans to place blame on who is responsible for the lockout and 27,000 have said that the player’s are to blame, barely. Just over 38% say the players are to blame, while 24.8% blame the owners and 36.7% blame both.

Many say this is the billionaires vs the millionaires. Two sides who get paid well, fighting to be paid more. If you own a professional football team, one would think you already had enough. Some of that may go to team operations and other bills to be paid, but many know where the bottom line ends. Players put their bodies on the line and should see a little more compensation. Let's see Woody Johnson or the Mara or Tisch families out there to battle for that extra compensation. I think not.

So while the league and the union continue to bicker like a divorced couple fighting over bank accounts, the fans are the ones who are truly hurting from this dispute, like a child overhearing their parents argument.

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