It sounds simple and obvious. To solve the current labor dispute, the NFL and the players must find a way to bridge their divide while also being able to sell victory to their constituents.
The first task, as men like Robert Kraft and Mike Vrabel and most recently Fran Tarkenton have pointed out, is to get the lawyers out of the process. Lawyers have a way of mesmerizing their clients into adopting strategies that, coincidentally, result in the lawyers milking the cow until dust comes out.
If the two sides can blaze a trail back to the table, with the lawyers taking a back seat to the business people, the challenge will be to carve the soon-to-be-11-figure pie in a way that lets the players believe they’re being fairly compensated while at the same time allowing the owners to believe they’re raking in a fair profit.
The players believe a perpetual 50-50 split is fair; the owners apparently believe that, at a certain point, 50-50 results in way too many dollars for the men who play the game — especially since the owners must run their businesses and build their stadiums and derive their margins from the other 50 percent.
So how do they break this logjam? For starters, the players need to start thinking in terms of total dollars, not revenue percentages. The owners’ proposal from March 11 entailed hard numbers based on projected revenue growth. If the league fails to meet those goals, the players still get their money. The problem arises when the league exceeds the projections on which the hard numbers are based.
The players weren’t happy that the league’s proposal omitted that term. The league believes the term is negotiable, and that the players should respond with a counter.
They should. Give the owners the first chunk of the overage, as the two sides had been discussing. Then split the money for another segment of the excess. Above that, reduce the percentage that goes to the players progressively, giving them a perpetual piece of the upside but also reserving the bulk of the fruits of any significant spikes to the owners.
In the end, the players need to look at the total dollars, because the total dollars will continue to grow. And, in fairness, the players generate only so much of the total growth of the league. It’s the league, not the players, that is constantly looking for ways to enhance revenue via business ideas that cost money to implement. Though the players play a game that can’t be played without them, the owners position the playing of that game to generate the most possible money for everyone.
And while the owners also enjoy increases in the value of their franchises, the two sides could devise some sort of a device for paying to the players a fixed percentage of any sale of equity by an owner.
What’s the right percentage? That’s for the two sides to figure out. And that process can’t happen until they find a way to act like adults and sit down and engage in a free exchange of ideas aimed at securing the future of the sport.
We’ve said many times that the owners and players are the stewards of the game. And many have assumed that the two sides eventually will wake up and get it done, given that role.
We’re not prepared to conclude that the parties will eventually get smart and get it done, in large part because neither side has done much of late to make us think they’re capable of doing so. They can change our minds by setting aside egos and agendas and legal strategies and getting to work, not for their own good but for the good of the game.