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In the NFL, “communism” is more about competition

michael-silver

Our good friend Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports, who slipped on the ice in Dallas and suffered a concussion (which explains why he kept blurting out “yo yo ma!” in the press box on game day), apparently is still suffering the effects of his acute case of bumpus-on-the-nogginus.

We’re kidding.  But a concussion could be one plausible explanation for Silver’s conclusion that the NFL constitutes an organization premised on communism.

Silver’s intriguing column lists the various characteristics of the league that point to the principles of people like Lenin and Stalin:  sharing of television revenues, the salary cap, and a draft of incoming players.  (Silver omits reference to another similar device — a system of partially sharing unshared revenues “according to need.”)  But there’s a reason for the methods employed by the league.

The NFL embraces certain aspects of communism in the name of competition.  If, as we explained last night, the Cowboys were forced to (or, as owner Jerry Jones may say, allowed to) cut their own TV deals without sharing the money equally with all other teams, Jones could dominate the league.  Without a salary cap, he could spend that money on any player he wanted to sign.  Without a draft, he could lure Cam Newton and Patrick Peterson and A.J. Green and Marcel Dareus and Von Miller to Dallas.

The league would suffer for it, badly, with a handful of Harlem Globetrotters playing a field of Washington Generals.  And so the league decided long ago that its growth would be tied to a flattening of the talent pool, via teams having relatively equal resources.  By creating an environment in which franchises have an equal chance to thrive, interest remains high in every city, especially during an offseason premised on convincing fans of each team that from 0-0 a Super Bowl title can emerge.

Though the Supreme Court has concluded that the league isn’t one entity for antitrust purposes, the NFL operates more like one company than 32 separate businesses.  And so when Silver says that “if my super-rich buddies and I decide we want to create a 33rd franchise and join the league, we’re told to go pound ice in Siberia,” he’s overlooking the fact that this is a party that simply can’t be crashed.

Indeed, if the league had the chance to reform itself from scratch, the NFL probably would be one company, with the owners of the teams holding shares in the privately-held corporation.  This would avoid all antitrust liability, and it would not allow the players to shut down their union and sue, since one company cannot violate the antitrust laws with itself.

Still, Silver’s essay is entertaining, even if his argument is a bit flawed.  His overriding goal seems to be explaining to fans who have lashed out mainly against the players that the owners bear their share of blame for the current state of the relationship between labor and management.

And they do.  But not because they’re communists.

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38 Responses to “In the NFL, “communism” is more about competition”
  1. tuckercarlsonisthevoiceofreason says: Mar 17, 2011 2:01 PM

    I think when Silver said “the NFL,” what he meant was “the Obama administration.”

  2. wiley16350 says: Mar 17, 2011 2:08 PM

    Let’s put it this way, the reason we’re on the owners side is because if the players get their way it could be detrimental to the health of the league in the future!!!!

  3. purpleguy says: Mar 17, 2011 2:10 PM

    Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with this, but everything Silver writes regarding the league he covers must be viewed with the knowledge of two things: (1) he gets the bulk of his info from the player’s side; and (2) is a pretty liberal Democrat.

  4. pappysarcasm says: Mar 17, 2011 2:10 PM

    The owners should just join their businesses into a single private corporation with 32 business units. Corporate bylaws could be written which allow each BU to control their P&L to a point, and each give a share of profit’s to the corp to be divided into shared revenue.

    This would remove the anit-trust argument all together, since it would would then be a single corporation with 32 partners and 32 BU’s.

    This arrangement would simply be labled “Capitalism”!

  5. nekelund says: Mar 17, 2011 2:16 PM

    What Michael Silver and others who see the situation in black-and-white, with the players being in the absolute right, don’t seem to understand is that the owners are the ones putting up their money and bearing the risk of economic loss. If anything, the NFLPA is the most “communist” aspect of the league.

    Silver is just raising the specter of communism for shock value to try and convince people how evil the owners are, as opposed to how virtuous the players are. This is clear from his clear misunderstanding of both capitalist and communist principles in his articles. I seriously doubt that if the NFL were to lose money for a few years in the row, the NFLPA would ask its players to give some of their wages back.

    It is clear to me that both the owners and players are at fault for this lockout and both are deserving of the scorn of the fans should this lockout continue. Part of me wishes that this lockout would result in the league losing money, so the owners, players and Michael Silvers of the NFL can feel the financial pinch and realize just how good things were now.

  6. thehatefulnerd says: Mar 17, 2011 2:16 PM

    The NFL’s product is not NFL “teams.” The product is COMPETITION. Therefore it behooves the league to put forth the best competition possible, which means good COMPETITION.

  7. thehatefulnerd says: Mar 17, 2011 2:17 PM

    The Greek Agon: The Contest of Wills, between equally matched opponents. Think of the NFL as a team version of that.
    We don’t want a lop-sided league.

  8. joe6606 says: Mar 17, 2011 2:23 PM

    You eliminate “communism” and you get a crappy system like MLB where the 6 richest teams, who are all located in BIG markets and/or are owned by the RICHEST owners are competitive each and every year, while the rest of the poor schleps have essentially NO hope of winning.

    Yes, every blue moon a small market team can crack the post season, but this doesnt diminish the fact that a LARGE reason for the NFL’s popularity is that its impossible to buy your way to a extended periods of dominance therefore even the tiny markets like GB have an equal chance of winning the SB.

    Owners like JJ and DS who think that the traditional rules of business should apply to the NFL, are killing the game.

  9. texasphinsfan says: Mar 17, 2011 2:27 PM

    I’m all for helping the underprivileged, but that doesn’t really apply here. If the players wanted more safety & security, the NFL offered such – better care for retired players, a funding of a new pension. Those were on the table when the NFLPA walked out.

    Instead, the players showed their true colors. In the end it was only about money. I realize there are hundreds of players NOT making millions, but how would *those* players be helped by owners opening books? The fringe guys get nothing from that. They would have greatly benefitted from the NFL’s proposed healthcare & pension though.

    Those complaining loudest are plenty well off, so it’s very hard for us fans to empathize here. Yes, you put your bodies through hell for our entertainment; but you’re also paid well to do so.

  10. joe6606 says: Mar 17, 2011 2:27 PM

    ” the owners are the ones putting up their money and bearing the risk of economic loss”

    ———————————————
    wrong.

    almost NONE of the owners have paid 100% of costs, in particular for new stadiums.

    In the real world, if a company wants a new HQ, they pay for the building 100% out of pocket. There’s no comparison to the NFL where nearly every team gets their stadiums paid LARGELY on the backs of us taxpayers.

  11. endzonezombie says: Mar 17, 2011 2:27 PM

    “Let’s put it this way, the reason we’re on the owners side is because if the players get their way it could be detrimental to the health of the league in the future!!!!”

    The reason we’re on the owners side? <–The clearest indication to date that PFT has been flooded by league employees supporting the owners.

  12. frankvzappa says: Mar 17, 2011 2:28 PM

    Stan Van Gundy compared David Stern to a dictator, so that means…

    Basketball = Fascism
    Football = Communism
    Baseball = Capitalism
    Hockey = Anarchy

    …never really saw it that way before, but it looks like it fits…Silver is a genius, always enjoy his work, and his digs on Jason Cole…

  13. bradwins says: Mar 17, 2011 2:34 PM

    The justifications given here for the NFL’s version of communism are actually the same justifications that communists for actual communism. That is, stripped down to the most basic idea, a system that cannot be totally and utterly dominated by one person or group at the expense of all other persons or groups. I’m not a communist, obviously, but I am curious about how the ideas behind actual communism differ from the ideas presented here to justify the NFL’s version of communism.

  14. texasphinsfan says: Mar 17, 2011 2:36 PM

    joe6606 says:Mar 17, 2011 2:27 PM ” the owners are the ones putting up their money and bearing the risk of economic loss”
    ———————————————

    wrong.
    almost NONE of the owners have paid 100% of costs, in particular for new stadiums.
    In the real world, if a company wants a new HQ, they pay for the building 100% out of pocket. There’s no comparison to the NFL where nearly every team gets their stadiums paid LARGELY on the backs of us taxpayers.

    —————————–

    That’s only stadiums. There are operating revenues and losses you’re not considering.

  15. ditkasmustache says: Mar 17, 2011 2:58 PM

    nekelund says: Mar 17, 2011 2:16 PM

    What Michael Silver and others who see the situation in black-and-white, with the players being in the absolute right, don’t seem to understand is that the owners are the ones putting up their money and bearing the risk of economic loss

    —————————

    What “risk”?

    Name me a team thats EVER lost money? They have a monopoly on pro football (ask any of the failed leagues-USFL,XFL,etc that tried to get in that business) which is a license to print money.

    Teams that sold for $5o million in the 80’s went for 200 million in the 90’s and 500 million 15 years later.

    Risk? Risk? Risk? Puh-leeze!!!!!

  16. citizenstrange says: Mar 17, 2011 2:58 PM

    What I really like is how after the taxpayers build a new stadium for a billionaire owner the billioniare owner then gets to sell the naming rights and keep the money. That’s just slick.

  17. bpfpft says: Mar 17, 2011 3:07 PM

    That’s the way the MLS is constituted, they are a single-entity structure where teams are centrally controlled and owned by the league and each team has an owner-operator and the team owners are shareholders in the league. Antitrust proof.

    Since contracts are negotiated with the league this is a key way to keep down player salaries in-line, if they don’t like it they can go get a job with another league like the CFL or UFL.

    MLS did win a legal battle with its players over this system, a court ruled that even absent a CBA players could opt to play in other leagues if they were unsatisfied with the league’s economic system.

  18. xtb3 says: Mar 17, 2011 3:09 PM

    quite the opposite mike

    nfl wants communism for the players as they set a SALARY CAP – the absolute most that the peasent players as a group can earn is set by them(that is if the owner even wants to spend that much). BUT no limits for the profits the owners can make and they refuse to even display their books to the public except of course the commie-owned green bay packers the champions of this league of capitalists.

  19. xtb3 says: Mar 17, 2011 3:13 PM

    nfl(nfc) once had a division called the “capitalist division.

  20. 3octaveFart says: Mar 17, 2011 3:19 PM

    endzonezombie says: Mar 17, 2011 2:27 PM

    “The reason we’re on the owners side? <–The clearest indication to date that PFT has been flooded by league employees supporting the owners."

    Shhh, you weren't supposed notice the boatload of new user-names, all with pro-owner opinions, that just magically appeared since the lockout began.

  21. thefiesty1 says: Mar 17, 2011 3:20 PM

    Communism? Yeah, right. Not the NFL, maybe Obama.
    The NFL is a blueprint for capitalism.

  22. rayguyreturns says: Mar 17, 2011 3:33 PM

    “wrong.
    almost NONE of the owners have paid 100% of costs, in particular for new stadiums.
    In the real world, if a company wants a new HQ, they pay for the building 100% out of pocket. There’s no comparison to the NFL where nearly every team gets their stadiums paid LARGELY on the backs of us taxpayers.”
    _____________________________________

    While I have my own feelings against tax payer funded enterprises, do you really believe that these stadiums are ONLY built for 8 Sundays per year plus a few preseason games and sometimes a playoff game or two???

    Most of these stadiums are built for multi use, including concerts, Super Cross, etc. etc.
    Money generated locally for these events goes toward the local economies providing jobs for other people besides the “billionaire” NFL team owners.

    Maybe you should look at what else is subsidized on the backs of “us taxpayers”. I think stadium costs are only an irritant in the giant gas bubble that is the taxing authority of any state or this nation.

    Where were the players when the original founders of the NFL and the AFL were mortgaging their lives to build a football team? I knew one of them personally as my dad did work for one of them.
    I think most would agree if there were no NFL, most of these players would be satisfied working a job and making $12.00 hour. I doubt 1/2 of them are even literate.
    It is all about greed.

  23. hobartbaker says: Mar 17, 2011 3:37 PM

    Silver! read the book from cover to cover. He can’t understand why Groucho, Harpo, and Zeppo don’t give Karl any credit for authorship.

  24. sbakernc says: Mar 17, 2011 3:40 PM

    ditkamustache-

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.

    Netting an X million dollar profit from football operations in 2007 and netting 80% of X million dollar profit in 2008 DOES NOT mean you are “losing money”.

    Show me ONE TEAM whose football expenses were greater than their football revenues for any 12 month period that you would like (that’s the definition of losing money, folks).

    When you’ve decided as a business owner that it is easier to pay the good-for-nothing layabout who married your daughter a six figure salary for doing nothing, rather than retain a divorce lawyer for her, then that is a personal expense, not a football expense.

    You just know that the Cowboy’s books, for example, are riddled with cash bonuses to the GM. How much would you pay a general manager who had delivered the same results for your team, Jerry?

  25. realitypolice says: Mar 17, 2011 3:56 PM

    joe6606 says:
    Mar 17, 2011 2:23 PM
    You eliminate “communism” and you get a crappy system like MLB where the 6 richest teams, who are all located in BIG markets and/or are owned by the RICHEST owners are competitive each and every year, while the rest of the poor schleps have essentially NO hope of winning.
    =============================

    That’s funny- The Yankees have won one World Series in the last 10 years. The Mets, another big market club that has it’s own network and spends big money on players, hasn’t won one in 25 years and may be one of the worst teams in the Majors this season.

    Boston has always been a big market, big spending team that before 2004 hadn’t won a world series in 87 years.

    In fact, 9 different teams have won the last 10 World Series.

    Texas made the Series last year with a payroll that was 27th out of 30 teams.

    None of the top 8 payrolls last year made the Series.

    The examples are endless. Notre Dame has it’s own TV Network- how’s that working out for them?

    The idea that a free market system would create a league where a couple of teams won every title is ridiculous. If Jerry Jones could spend ten times more money than anyone else, It doesn’t mean he would spend it any more wisely than he does now.

    If there was no draft, stupid teams would spend millions on over rated prospects, and smart teams would mine for under rated prospects that would come cheaper.

    Money doesn’t build great teams- smart businessmen and talent evaluators do. The Tampa Bay Rays compete every year with Boston and New York with a quarter of their payroll.

    Salary caps are a crutch for idiot owners who are clueless and can’t help themselves.

  26. bowsi says: Mar 17, 2011 4:01 PM

    Eventually the owners will squeeze the players to the point where an upstart league will be able to gain entrance into the market, maybe even with the players getting a stake in it. Perhaps the process is already in the works, lets see what a lengthy lockout does.

  27. flaccotoboldin says: Mar 17, 2011 4:02 PM

    He’s right.

    The NFL is a Trust at best, Monopoly at worst. The lack of competition it faces is akin to something like communism.

    No, the NFL isn’t EXACTLY Communism or socialism.

    But those championing the rights of the Owners as related to the pursuit of the American Dream and principles of Free Market Capitalism are COMPLETELY mistaken.

    In fact, in most ways the NFL couldn’t be any farther away from being a free market enterprise without being semi communist and socialist.

    This is especially true with thier labor market. They face no competition, set goals, wages, prices, policies, etc – its very centrally directed.

  28. moseszd says: Mar 17, 2011 4:07 PM

    A sports league is an ‘association’ rather than a communist entity. That is, two or more or more businesses in which partners (owners) co-labor to achieve and share revenues and expenses, but remain separate entities for operations as well as determining profits and losses.

    Associations cover all kinds of business activities — research and development, sports leagues, trade associations, etc. None of which are ‘communist’ or are following basic communist doctrine which is the means of production is owned in common ownership and such things as private ownership of property, ‘wage labor’ and basic mercantilism have been abolished.

    What’s next out of Silver? The owners are Nazis? Jerry Jones eats small children? The players all work for the Muslim Brotherhood and it’s part of a conspiracy to destroy America?

    I mean, at what level does Silver’s ignorance and stupidity stop?

  29. kellyb9 says: Mar 17, 2011 4:10 PM

    If it was communism, it would have been a lot easier to divide up the 9 billion. Seems a lot like commercialism.

  30. moseszd says: Mar 17, 2011 4:18 PM

    joe6606 says:

    In the real world, if a company wants a new HQ, they pay for the building 100% out of pocket. There’s no comparison to the NFL where nearly every team gets their stadiums paid LARGELY on the backs of us taxpayers.

    lol. “The real world…” Son, in the REAL WORLD companies tell governments they better pay for the roads, the rail sidings, sewer development, give them outrageous tax breaks, pay for development costs, waive fees and even offer bonds and/or subsidies or else they’ll move/won’t relocate.

    That’s the real world. Not your Randian fantasy of ‘the real world.’ But the actual real world.

  31. macjacmccoy says: Mar 17, 2011 4:25 PM

    Silver acts like sharing, setting limits, and a draft was invented by communists. People shared with each other way before there were any communists. Same goes for setting a limit and a draft. Hell indians probably even had a draft. The chief probably said you, you, and you are coming with me on a hunt and they went. Thats basically the same thing as a draft someone in charge telling someone else whos hes going to go work with and the guy having no choice about it if he wants the job.

    My point is just bc Communism and the NFL share some basic startegies doesnt make them a like. Because the things they share arent just things that happen in communist states. They happen everywhere and have been going on alot longer then the start of communism.

  32. pigskinporker says: Mar 17, 2011 4:27 PM

    I just love how we as fans need to be told who to blame. Thank you for telling us we need to be blaming the owners and not the players….

    Thank god, because I just can’t think for myself, I need to be told who’s fault it is. I guess our opinions as fans is just completely wrong and miss informed. So glad we have these genius sports reporters.

  33. ontboltfan says: Mar 17, 2011 4:31 PM

    pappysarcasm says:
    Mar 17, 2011 2:10 PM
    The owners should just join their businesses into a single private corporation with 32 business units. , call it Capitalism
    ———-
    This is exactly right. Its also like your typical franchiser-franchisee business like even a McDonalds. Costs are set (cap), & the bus makes some rev from the gate on its own & other rev is shared equally.

    Communism is actually everything made and shared equally, noone makes a profit, which wouldn’t work. Tom Brady would make the same salary as a 7th rnd draftee. Where it works is if you have one state run company and close your borders to outside trade of products.

    In that regard it is very much capitalism too. As there is competition in other leagues and with every other form of sport or entertainment.

  34. Slackmo says: Mar 17, 2011 4:41 PM

    Please turn in your JD sheepskin. Forming an NFLCorp would subject it to being deemed a monopoly and broken up.

    If Intel followed your advice and purchased AMD, leaving one market player for computer processors, DOJ would have them broken up the next day.

  35. realitypolice says: Mar 17, 2011 4:44 PM

    moseszd says:
    Mar 17, 2011 4:07 PM
    A sports league is an ‘association’ rather than a communist entity. That is, two or more or more businesses in which partners (owners) co-labor to achieve and share revenues and expenses, but remain separate entities for operations as well as determining profits and losses.
    ========================

    If any industry association in America attempted to put caps on employee compensation for it’s members that were enforceable by fines, told college graduates entering the field exactly which company they would be forced to work for and for how many years, even told member companies where and when and with whom they could do business, they would be in violation of federal law.

    This, you see, is why sports leagues get these little things called “anti-trust exemptions”, which are anti-competition, unconstitutional and remain in place only because Americans like sports more than they care about good government.

  36. macjacmccoy says: Mar 17, 2011 4:53 PM

    pappysarcasm says:
    Mar 17, 2011 2:10 PM
    The owners should just join their businesses into a single private corporation with 32 business units. Corporate bylaws could be written which allow each BU to control their P&L to a point, and each give a share of profit’s to the corp to be divided into shared revenue.

    This would remove the anit-trust argument all together, since it would would then be a single corporation with 32 partners and 32 BU’s.

    This arrangement would simply be labled “Capitalism”!

    That would be all good for the owners of the less popular and money producing teams. But the owners with teams with the biggest markets and fanbases would hate that arraignment. It would kill the value of the individule teams bc they could no longer be consider there own company. They would just be part of the NFL. It would no longer be well 10,000 fans came to a Jaguars game and 40,000 came to a Cowboys game. It would be 50,000 fans came to these 2 NFL games. Why would a guy like Jerry Jones want his bussiness being involve with a guy like Wayne Weavers? He wouldnt want to devaule the franchise he did so much to build by just making it another part of a bigger company. This isnt evening mentioning the problems they would have fighting over control of the company.

    They would probably find a way to give guys like Jones more money bc they would be considered to be bringing in more business. but none of these guys would want to do this because it would convoluted the situation 10 times more then it is now, and the money it would take to make this all happen would cost alot more then they could get from the players in a new cba. Which is the whole reason why any of this happened. The owners want more money.

    IT like treating a broken ankle by cutting off the leg. The consequences of treatment would be alot worse then the orginal problem.

  37. johntonioholmes says: Mar 17, 2011 7:25 PM

    The NFL is like socialism–not communism. There’s a big difference.

    The NFL absolutely functions like Charles Fourier’s version of socialism in which there is cooperation between businesses.

    Lenin and Stalin did not set up their government to function like that. In fact, Lenin very derisively referred to this style of socialism as “Utopian Socialism.” As the name implies, it is based on the idea that everything functions better with cooperation, (there’s actually a decent amount of evidence to support this claim.)

    But far be it from the cable news watchers to distinguish between the very different forms of socialism. God forbid any of you, including Silver, just open a book.

  38. Canyonero says: Mar 17, 2011 10:45 PM

    I’m a big fan of Michael Silver’s and always read his columns, even though I’m more conservative. I like hearing new points of view and he presents them well.

    However.. if the NFL was communist, wouldn’t that mean each team ends the season at 8-8, with the Super Bowl championship assigned by the league office? Equality of outcome is the goal.

    I’ve said it before: there’s nothing wrong with communism as an idea. It’s when people get involved and actually do it that problems happen!

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