League, union squabble over semantics

During a Friday appearance on The Dan Patrick Show (guest-hosted by me), NFL outside labor counsel Bob Batterman mentioned that the players get 60 cents of every dollar.  It’s a contention with which the NFLPA has taken issue in the past.

“I know the league and Bob Batterman are fond of saying players get 60 cents on every dollar,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told the Indianapolis Star in August 2010.  “That just happens to not be true.  In our framework, where the owners are saying that they want another $1 billion off the top, that would mean that it’s now $2 billion off the top of all revenue.  I’m not sure it makes sense to talk about players still getting 60 percent of total revenue if under their new system they would want to take $2 billion off the top.  It’s 60 percent of even less money.”

Also appearing on Friday’s Dan Patrick Show, NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said this in response to Batterman’s remarks:  “The question I have for owners is, ‘Why do you keep telling the fans the players get 60 cents of each dollar when it’s just not true?’”

The league responded by posting at its labor-focused website an item quoting one of the “Frequently Asked Questions” from the union’s website:  “What is behind the NFL Salary Cap?

“In return for agreeing to free agency, the owners got a Salary Cap which was first implemented in 1994,” the union’s website states.  “The Salary Cap is essentially equal to 60% of Total Revenues and includes both player salaries and benefits.  Prior to 1993, NFL players historically received an average of about 40 to 50% of the league’s revenues in salaries and benefits.  Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, however, players are guaranteed a minimum of 50% of Total Revenues at least through 2009.  This is perhaps the greatest benefit achieved in the CBA.”

The union, which already has revised this portion of its website to say that the “Players get roughly 60 percent of what’s defined in the CBA as ‘Total Revenues’ after a number of categories of expense credits,” strongly disagrees with the league’s ongoing characterization of the players getting 60 cents of each dollar earned.

“If NFL officials and lawyers told their owners that players get 60% of every dollar, then no wonder we don’t have a deal,” Atallah told PFT via e-mail on Friday afternoon.  “People can’t let people use this myth as an excuse for the owners to leverage towards a lockout.  The NFL, the owners and the players have joint auditors.  This is the dirty little secret that they don’t want people in the business to know.”

Atallah then provided the union’s calculation of the percentage of total revenue actually received by the players.

In 2002, the number was 51.87 percent.  In 2003, it dropped to 50.23 percent.  In 2004, it was 52.18 percent.  In 2005, 50.52 percent.  In 2006, it was 52.74 percent.  In 2008, it was 50.96 percent.  In 2007, it was 51.84 percent.  In 2008, it was 50.96 percent.  Last year, it was 50.06 percent.

We’ve been under the impression for months that, indeed, the 59.6-cent formula applies only after certain money is taken off the top, and that the primary dispute between the players and the owners moving forward arises from a desire by the owners to take even more than that off the top.  If, as the union alleges and as it currently appears, the owners deliberately are mischaracterizing the player compensation formula, the reason is obvious.  If the NFL says that the players are receiving 60 cents out of every dollar that comes through the doors, the fans and the media and the politicians will be far more likely to believe that the players are getting too much.  The union believes that the number is instead closer to 50-50, and that if the NFL has its way the number will be even lower.

Here’s a crazy thought.  Why not just split all revenue on a true 50-50 basis, without deductions or credits or accounting tricks or mumbo-jumbo?  It would be different if there wasn’t enough money to pay everyone’s bills.  But the players and owners are rich and getting richer, at a time when it feels like too many of the people who spend their work time on far less interesting pursuits are poor and getting poorer.

And that’s really the bottom line.  Both sides will be inclined to fudge reality in the hopes of generating support from a fan base that has grown ambivalent to the plight of billionaires and the millionaires who work for them.  The sooner the NFL and the NFLPA realize that the very large majority of football fans don’t care, the sooner the stewards of this great sport will quit behaving like enemies and start acting like partners.

25 responses to “League, union squabble over semantics

  1. Mike, I respect you in so many ways, I have been following this site since the beginning, and you have literally posted some of my comments on your board.. but once again, I want to keep you in check by saying, you are straight up wrong on this issue… The economy has gotten worse, agreed, but been worse for more than three years now… I dont see NFL owners trying to sell out, they are implementing more marketing strategies… tickets arent going down to subsidize lower attendance, games are sold out… So the issue is a “swabble” between 50% and 60%…. and that is a HUGE squabble…

    While you carry the NFL flag (hey they pay your bills, i would too) ten percent of a league wide dollar amount is ridiculously big. Heck even the 1 bil they take of the top is still a ton. spread amongst 2000 players (roughly) is a great deal of money…oddly enough, makes up for the other ten percent… the NFLPA has a good argument, and the NFL is in a solid monopoly over them.

    I am saddened by the lockout that WILL happen, but happy the players will get their due… not every player in the NFL makes a million dollars, heck most dont even make that much…. but the NFLPA is doing whats right by their players… a lockout hurts the ones right now, but benefits thousands later…

    I will admit, I was opposed at first to a lock out, but now, I think its the only way, I dont think the NFL should be able to bully people into accepting their rules, no matter what… Since everyone in the ENTIRE NFL is too busy counting their dollars, i say let the lockout happen, Florios job will change (so he can put down the flag and be independent again) . Owners are going to be alot less enthused when their teams are not making them 50 million a year.

  2. It seems to me the major problems in achieving an agreement are the new macro economic reality and rookie contracts. I don’t understand why somebody like Jemarcus Russell walks away from the game wealthy while DeSean Jackson is stuck with a second round contract and much lower numbers. Worse still, how about all the free agents who make hardly anything compared to first round picks who never succeed in the league? If rookies were capped at lower numbers maybe we wouldn’t even have a problem with what veteran players are paid. Maybe money should be set aside to pay all league players bonuses based upon their years of service. This is after all an entertainment business. Shouldn’t the Brian Dawkins of the world be compensated for entertaining us longer then some kid out of college?

  3. Agh, I am totally for the owners in this. I sorta feel some people are taking sides based on how much money each one earns.

    The fact is, the owners love the game and w/ out them we would have nothing. I too am jealous of the owner and their riches, but one has to realize a lockout would be because of the players.

    To argue that the players aren’t paid enough, aren’t cared for enough, is absolutely ludicrous as well.

  4. Finally Mike makes sense. The site has been degenerating into a S stirring cesspool lately with all the negative, far fetched conjectures lately.

  5. Unreal, cant they just understand that they make ridiculous amounts of money compared to what middle class americans, such as myself, will never make in our lifetime. Understand that we just want football and that your 8 million dollar salary will make you as rich as you need to be if you just save some of it.

  6. The more reasonable solution would be to guarantee the owners a minimum return on their investment. Players would share downside risk. I would assume the returns are good, otherwise we would be hearing what they are.

  7. Great article. But what’s sad is that we as fans know so much about collective bargaining agreements, arbitration, how a salary cap truly works (down to the ‘lawyer talk’ nitty gritty), and all these other “semantics” that they’re arguing about. Whatever happened to focusing on a player’s E.R.A. rather than his C.P.A.? That being said, JUST GET OUT THERE AND PLAY! My Eagles are getting ready to go on a nice run for the next couple years and that would be just our luck… we get a winner and there’s a lockout. :-/

  8. The union is crying about the money these guys make!!! Don’t they realize that we the fans are paying a portion of this bill and these guys make more money in a year than I made my whole life. And I thought I did pretty good for a country boy with a college degree.
    Shame on Both Sides!!!!!!!!!

  9. Here is an idea.

    I think we need a few politicians to announce the imposition of a 40% policy. The owners get 40%, the players get 40% and the cities that have stadiums get 20%. This will be unilaterally imposed on these greedy SOBs if the 2011 season does not start on schedule. There is more than enough money for all so they can lose a bunch of it if they don’t shut up and get this done.

  10. “Here’s a crazy thought. Why not just split all revenue on a true 50-50 basis, without deductions or credits or accounting tricks or mumbo-jumbo? ”

    Because first you have to agree on what the word “revenue” means. All of these “deductions or accounting tricks or mumbo-jumbo” are simply an attempt to come to a firm definition of what constitutes “revenue.”

    Florio, don’t just throw up your hands and say it’s all too complicated for you. That’s abdicating your responsibility as a journalist.

  11. I would be more sympathetic to the NFLPA’s argument if they paid the bills for the retired players and did not ask the NFL owners to cover that cost. In addition, what about the plans that handle player tuition, providing the current players with insurance for 5 years after they leave the game, and other plans that do not directly come out of the NFLPA’s pocket.

    If they want an equal split, have them cover the costs related to the players while the owners cover the stadiums, coaches, front offices, travel, and all the things they have to cover. The NFLPA can hire in trainers, medical staffs, pay for equipment, and anything related to the players or their safety. They can split the travel for away games. Hey, if you want HALF the money for providing the labor, carry the costs directly related to providing that labor.

    I get the players are the ones on the field, but if the owners did not build the league, foot the costs upfront, and build the basis for this league, the players would not enjoy the lifestyle they currently have. Why should the owners get cut completely out when they are the ones that make massive investments on these franchises?

    If you put $1M in the stock market expecting a return of 10%, you do not want to give your broker half of that profit.

    He did the work.

  12. nothing like a bunch of millionaire cry babies, I did not get all the candy in the bag….boo hooo
    nobody forces you to play football, go drive a garbage truck!

  13. As a fan I’m willing to boycott the last game, is anyone else? How else do we let them know we’re tired of their make me richer mentality. I quit supporting baseball after their last strike and it appears that college football will be the only sport I watch if this continues.

  14. The NFL is getting too big! The reality is game day attendance as going down while ticket prices continue to rise and concession prices are way too high. HDTV is more affordable and even going to your local sports bar is cheaper. The game day experience is being lost. The NFL needs a wakeup call.

  15. Having owned a business where 35-40% of the gross went to labor, I know changes in overhead (utilities, rent, R.E. taxes) requires an occasional review of wages necessary because it was the largest area of expense and generally the most wasteful.
    One thing to consider though, even if we take the NFLPA at their word on players share, that isn’t the full payroll cost for ownership who also pays coaching staffs, scouting departments, marketing departments, and other front office folks pushing the total labor costs well above the number the union is pushing.
    The cost of new stadiums is the sticking point. Any team playing in a stadium older than ten years has to already be preparing to replace that stadium as the new mediums are the message – and it is becoming harder for owners to compete with couches at home.

  16. @bobbyhoying, both sides already have an agreement in theory about a rookie salary scale. It’s simply a matter of ironing out where that money goes. In the end, it will go to veteran players and/or retired players.

    To some of the rest, grow up and stop whining. Waaaah, they make more money than I do. They should just shut up and take it. You know what? There’s a really good reason they make a lot more money than you do. They’re worth it. Not as human beings, but as investments. They make as much money as they do because without them the owners would make a lot less. It’s not even about particular players, it’s about talent level. We watch the game because it’s exciting and because we marvel at some of the things they can do on the field. If the NFL were populated by Arena league level talent, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as popular, and the league wouldn’t make anywhere near as much money. That is the one and only reason that players make as much as they do. Besides, too many of you act like the league is full of Peyton Manning style contracts. There’s maybe a handful of players with huge contracts on any team (some less than that), and the rest range from league minimum to a large but less mind bowing amount. Now, that may seem like too much as well, but less so if you take into account the fact that the average football career is something like four or five years, and that many players end their careers with injuries that could leave them physically impaired to some extent.

    Personally, I don’t favor either side in this issue. I favor the middle ground that will only be reached if the two sides actually compromise. Spewing uninformed rants about how the players are all millionaire crybabies, however, just demonstrates an ignorance of the actual issues at hand.

  17. stanklepoot: Since you have such a good handle on this – when are we going to admit that colleges are minor leagues for the NFL? Maybe the NFL should be paying Division 1 college athletes some walkin around money so kids who are poor are not tempted to violate NCAA rules. Why do baseball organizations have salaried minor leaguers but the NFL gets off scott free?

  18. I love how both sides play on the emotions of the fans.

    I am old enough to remember the strike in the 80’s when we got to see a whole bunch of couch potatoes and a few wanna athletes show us a version of our favorite teams. It wasn’t pretty. For that reason, I am okay with some of these nowaday players making a decent coin.

    Having said that, I would love to see some of these players go up to Canada and play in the CFL, in a 18 game schedule, where most of their players actually have other jobs during the off season to make ends meet. I bet they would love to even make 1% of what the average NFL player makes. But I know, there is a reason they are in Canada and not the NFL.

    The owners are not without blame here. When some of the newer owners bought into the league, they had to have known that alot of stadiums needed to be upgraded for better revenues. Why should that be a player or fan problem? In fact, why should it be a government problem? Yea you could argue the money the stadiums bring into the local economy, but, who cares? We as fans just want football. Proposals and counterproposals and rhetoric should be kept behind closed doors instead of making the process a political one playing with your fans as pawns in this game.

    The bickering will go on, yes, but like most NFL endeavors, announcement of a settlement will be during a time when the NFL will have most of the eyes of the world on it. The marketing machine at its best.

  19. Show me a business (besides professional sports) where the employees make 50% or more of the revenue…? In the small business world, the owners would be on their asses with a quickness.

    This only works in the NFL because of the insane amounts of money. To see Billionaires fighting with Millionaires over how they are going to share the loot is disgusting to say the least. Both the players, & owners would be better off to keep quiet & work it out privately.

    Advantage = Owners. The average NFL career is what 4, 5 years..? So if there is a lockout… the average player will lose 20% of his earning potential..?! Ouch. That is if it is for 1 season. Not to mention, they would be giving alot of other people opprotunity. We arent talking about low paying jobs here. What the players dont realize is the owners can play with replacements… they have before. The owners can weather the storm. The current players cant.

  20. At the end of the day, I am still a fan of watching the players, play. Not the owners. That’s all I care about. One can’t compare these people to “average middle class Americans”, because they’re not average middle class Americans.

    They have special talents that the rest of us don’t possess. Therefore, they deserve the riches that exploiting that talent provides. Just as talent in other professions reap the benefit of their talents compared to “average middle class Americans”, so too do these NFL players.

    I never see blogs complaining about the money earned by musicians, actors, writers, doctors, and investment gurus compared to “average middle class Americans”.

    Why? Because there is a reason “average middle class Americans” are average middle class Americans. We’re average. Void of any special talent.

  21. I don’t believe the numbers from either group. Both the players and the owners are attempting to engender sympathy for their respective postures. The fans are merely “innocent bystanders” that have no part in the process. We weren’t invited to the meetings. And the owners should be prepared that if there is no football there will be no season ticket holders. Both groups are on their own.

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