Players may have more leverage than they realize

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From the failed strike of 1987 to the 2011 lockout, which saw the players blink on the verge of losing real money, it’s become a given that, when it comes to the nuclear option of labor relations, the owners have the upper hand.

Work stoppages don’t really work in the NFL, from the players’ perspective. Football players want to play football — unlike most other unionized workers, whose day-in, day-out job is hardly the realization of a lifelong dream. Football players also make far more money than other unionized workers, creating financial obligations that become impossible to satisfy with a zero dollars a year salary plus benefits, babe. And whereas other unionized workers can count on overtime (and the money that goes with it) to make back lost money as management tries to catch up on pre-existing production obligations, lost NFL work is lost forever. With no chance to recoup a penny of it.

And if a full season is lost, the players would see $9 billion disappear forever, with no chance to earn any of it back.

Despite those realities, which may be impossible to overcome no matter what I type next, there are dynamics that potentially give the players more leverage if/when a work stoppage (lockout or strike) should happen in 2021. For starters, plenty of owners are elderly and older. Does, for example, 78-year-old Jerry Jones want to lose a shot at winning a Super Bowl by scrapping an entire season? Plenty of other older owners may feel the same way.

And plenty of owners, regardless of age, also may have no desire to deal with the inevitable litigation that would happen in the event of a lockout, with the union disclaiming interest, the NFL losing the antitrust exemption that applies to a league-wide unionized workforce, and the players challenging every attempt by 32 independent businesses to coordinate employment rules as a clear violation of federal antitrust laws. And even if the league would try its best to paint the players as the villains of a work stoppage, more and more media and fans seem to be realizing the folly of blindly siding with The Billionaires.

Meanwhile, the exponential growth in the value of NFL franchises since 2011 also has resulted in a dramatic increase in operating expenses. New stadiums have significant debt-service obligations. How, for example, would the Raiders and the Rams pay for their new stadiums without the revenue that comes from having a full slate of football games played there?

Then there’s the obsession with growing the game in London. More than a decade of momentum could be squandered if, suddenly, the four games to be played there in 2021 became none.

And as to the threat of antitrust litigation, let’s not forget that the union’s biggest gains came when it wasn’t a union, when Reggie White and company challenged the NFL’s free-agency restrictions via a landmark lawsuit that eventually was settled through the establishment of a system of veteran movement that the NFL successfully had avoided for decades. If/when the players commit to proceeding as non-union employees (thereby missing no game checks) and fighting each and every antitrust violation that is hiding in plain sight (the salary cap, the franchise tag, restricted free agency, and . . . wait for it . . . the draft), the players could eventually have the owners saying uncle, and not the other way around.

So as the players regroup to consider their options, they should be considering that, perhaps this time around, they may have more leverage. Perhaps the owners will, this time around, lack the collective resolve to shut the sport down. Perhaps the financial obligations for the owners will be as daunting as they’ll be for the players. (And they’ll definitely be daunting for the players.) Perhaps a commitment to abandoning the union model and compelling the NFL through the court system to act as 32 independent businesses that legally cannot coordinate regarding their work forces (no differently than McDonald’s and Wendy’s and Burger King and Arby’s and Taco Bell and KFC can’t coordinate regarding their own work forces) will be the thing that finally pushed the pendulum in the general direction of the players.

Or maybe simply the threat of these potential developments will be the thing that gets the owners to make just enough concessions now to ensure a continuation of long-term labor peace, and to allow the NFL to parlay stability within the player ranks into a cash bonanza that will make all owners and players significantly richer over the course of the next decade via the next wave of TV deals.

12 responses to “Players may have more leverage than they realize

  1. The players do have some leverage, but they need to be cautious about how far they push the owners. Losing a season would cost the players far more than $9 billion dollars. Some players would find themselves in dire financial straits and that load would be on their backs forever. Some would permanently lose an opportunity to play in the NFL. A whole new class of new recruits from the college ranks would be ready to join the league and replace many of the lower tier players.

    Furthermore, the TV contracts that pay for all the salaries would be greatly impacted by a work stoppage. Viewership would drop once the games started again, at least initially. That makes the TV deals worth less. With TV deals worth less, there will be less money for the players going forward.

    Killing the goose that lays the golden eggs isn’t a very smart strategy when you share in the eggs.

  2. Could the NFL players go to the XFL? Or could the XFL provide higher quality scab players and the NFL goes on?

  3. The players need to make a sacrifice now in order to prosper tomorrow, but they aren’t willing to do that so they won’t win and the owners know it. If the players say we will sit and shut it down then the owners are on the hook for season tickets, lost revenue on everything associated with game days, and lost advertising dollars, TV revenue, merchandising. It goes seriously deep and yea they might already be rich but they are businessmen as well, and when the money stops coming in for a full season they would be looking to make a deal, but most of the players can’t go without a paycheck, and the owners know it so they’ve already won the negotiations, because they came into these negotiations from a position of power.. The players need to take a stand now and demand more of the pie, but they won’t it’s game over the owners have won again

  4. I disagree that the NFLPA has much leverage at this point and believe union members will vote 75-80% to accept the current offer. What really is the main stumbling block? Playing an extra game? The reason these guys are in the NFL is to play games. In fact, most players would welcome the extra money generated by that game, which will not be at diminished price as they aren’t top 10 paid on their teams. The reality is that increased revenue sharing, better discipline process, drug testing, Less padded practices, $90K increased base minimum immediately, Increased practice and team rosters by 2, respectively and other owner concessions makes this a total lock to pass.

    The working class off the NFLPA will be happy with this contract. The elites, not as much.

  5. What you have to understand about the American public is they are generally on the side of the workers. We’re all workers. What you have to understand about NFL fans is we look forward to that weekly escape from our real lives, to immerse ourselves in NFL football. Most of us can relate to millionaires more than we do billionaires. But there is one catch, and it’s a big one. Whenever the players take our weekly escape away from us, they immediately become greedy millionaires who don’t care one iota about us fans, and we jump to the side of the owners. So there is no public support for the players. You see, most fans are fans of teams. They like the individual players who play for those teams, so an Eagles fan who may have been wearing a Nick Foles Jersey, does not go out and buy a Jaguars Foles Jersey when he gets traded. Players come and go. Those fans will gladly root for replacement players who are wearing the Jersey of their favorite team. So the public just doesn’t support the players when they walk away from their team, especially considering many fans struggle to make ends meet. So if you took a poll right now. You’d probably see support for the players, but if you took a poll 3 weeks into a strike, the overwhelming support is with the teams (the owners). Simple enough to understand if you’re from the Heartland.

  6. I have been saying this for years. Ratings did not go the way they wanted starting in 2016. They had a slight bump this past year but it was too late.

    Many markets are struggling as well.

    Use the leverage!

  7. Unless and until the players are fiscally responsible they will never win in a confrontation with owners. They can’t go out and spend money as fast as they make it. No bling, no fancy cars no mansions. Even a minimum salary player is fabulously paid in comparison to most people and as such can easily meet their financial burdens if they spend like a normal person. Unfortunately that is not the mindset of most players and as long as it is they will lose. All the stuff you mentioned is legit, but for the most part NFL players aren’t “sophisticated” enough to see that big picture. They want their stuff and they want it now. Then when things go south they will whine. Much like the millennial generation that wants free everything. Things that past generations had to pay for. And most importantly had to wait to get. Instant gratification is a insidious character flaw.

  8. Actually, the players have less leverage. The NFL has ready made replacement players from the XFL.

  9. If the players decertify, they can’t strike and they can’t be locked out. Is it worth the anti-trust law suits for the owners? One thing we learned during the last lockout—lots of players read this site.

  10. Go ahead current players, strike. The NFL will get replacement players right away and they have a larger pool to draw from and you can be sure the striking players will come back with a much worse deal than they have now. Please strike.

  11. What if the players did “win”, decertify and the owners could no longer have the antitrust exemption. The NFL could become one corporation with each team owner becoming stock holders in the corporation. ( More shares for the more valuable franchise owners, you can each “manage ” your own team as McDonald’s Franchise owner’s mange theirs ) They could then pay all their players “Minimum Wage” where everyone makes $ 500,000 per year. Same as McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King and Arby’s. Players could accept it,quit or go get another job doing something else.
    All of the outcomes of winning and decertifying may not be good.

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