I'm stepping outside my usual comfort zone here, since I'm writing about the NFL. It's not that I don't follow football just as passionately as I do baseball, it's just that I rarely write about it. So, take my word for what it's worth.
Sunday afternoon, I listened to an interview with NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith on Maurice Jones-Drew's radio show on XM Fanball Fantasy Sports. Smith laid out what he believes are four reasons why the NFL owners are heading towards a lockout in 2011. Sadly, his points make a lot of sense:
1) The NFL hired Bob Batterman, a labor attorney now representing the NFL. In case you're unfamiliar with him, Batterman was the attorney who represented the NHL through it's season-long lockout.
2) NFL owners have renegotiated contracts for assistant coaches, paying them through till the 2012 season.
3) The NFL negotiated a section of the TV deal that will pay them four billion dollars regardless if any games are played in 2011.
4) Some teams have structured signing bonuses for rookie and free agent deals so they will not pay anything during the 2011 season.
If these points are true, and Smith is right to link them into an overall strategy by owners to lock out its players, we are in for a long, tough time without football. Those are not steps management takes lightly. Those are steps to ensure they have a big enough war chest to wait out the players and get the concessions they've wanted.
Smith is biased. As head of the NFLPA, he sees every opportunity for publicity to state his case about the poor, unrepresented players. For instance, he brought up the fact that players will be without health care for themselves and their families starting in March of 2011 if the lockout occurs. With the number of people who are unemployed or have seen their employers end benefit coverage skyrocketing, this probably hits home a little more to the common fan.
According to Smith, the owners are asking for players to pay for their own health care coverage, to pay for their own travel to and from cities where they will play, to pay for their own training programs, to play two extra regular season games and to give back roughly one billion dollars in revenue.
That's not real money, though. That billion dollars is based on a percentage of the total profit by the NFL. In the last collective bargaining agreement, owners gave players too much of the pie and now the smaller market teams want some back. So, they'll attempt to move from 65 percent to 63 percent of the total revenue going to players (figures are ballpark estimates).
The real sticking points will be this money and the extra games. If a deal gets done, I imagine we'll see some rollback on the percent of the revenue going to players, with extra games played during the regular season, but also expanded rosters and health care/pension plans for players. This way, the players are protected with injuries and post-career infirmity, plus more players get paid as part of the league. That has to be a goal of the Players Association. The owners get some of the revenue back, as well as two new streams in the form of those extra regular season contests. Whether it takes a lockout to accomplish this negotiation is anyone's guess. What's sad, though, is that it looks like the owners are angling for a lockout. That means there might not be pro football in 2011 and that is never a good thing.