Players’ side of labor deal hard to swallow
When the NFL lockout was over, all parties were declared winners – the owners would lose just one preseason game, the players would get to play and the fans would get to see them.
In the speed of the final negotiations, it wasn’t yet clear. Now it is. The players didn’t get much.
Let’s break it down as simply as we can.
Players had been getting 57.5 percent of the revenue in previous deals, but once the stadium credits to the owners were deducted, it was closer to 50-50. Since the salary cap was implemented in 1994, it had never been lower than that. That’s the deal that DeMaurice Smith, the union’s executive director, said all along he needed to have. What did they get in the end?
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After the stadium credits, the cap would work out to an average of 47 percent of all revenues over the course of the new 10-year deal. Sure, the players will wind up getting more towards the end of the deal thanks to a predicted rise in national media rights, which they have 55 percent of, but they don’t start where they said they wanted to.
There are advances in minimum salaries, for example. Players get a $55,000 boost in the first year and $15,000 jumps in subsequent years. But that’s relative. None of that money is guaranteed. Guaranteed money was the subject that Smith’s predecessor, the late Gene Upshaw, was most criticized for.
Guaranteed contracts were negotiated out of this deal with the owners promising to spend two percent more per team on compensation. The union thought that, in the end, that would make more players more money, but I’m not sure how that works. Guarantees are guarantees. This is the most brutal sport of the major four and the only one not to have guaranteed money.
It is true that the last collective bargaining agreement was a win for the players. The owners should never have signed that deal. It’s easy to argue that the players shouldn’t have signed it this time around. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like they had a choice because there was such chaos at the end. Several players told CNBC that the first time they were seeing the intricacies of the deal was when it was presented before them to sign what the owners had already signed off on. Even team union representatives were looking at the deal as if it were foreign.
The union had spent so much time on getting their gains through a legal strategy that backfired, once an appeals court ruled that the lockout was legally permissible, that they were unprepared for the true negotiation.
Why wasn’t there any discussion of getting rid of the cap? Upshaw had promised that if an uncapped year ever came (as it did last year), that the salary cap would never return.
The players did make gains in a much better benefits package, which will take care of them when they retire. But players privately believe that the owners didn’t give up what they should have been doing in the past anyway.
Why did the union have to make the case that the players were equal business partners? This isn’t a good argument if you think that you shouldn’t be paying for the owners growing revenues through new stadiums. If the players made this case, “We’re just employees, we shouldn’t be expected to pay for the costs of running the business,” maybe they’d have a chance to decrease the stadium credits more significantly than they did.
The true buckling from the players came from the length of the agreement. Ten years? Who signs a 10-year labor deal in the most powerful sport? How does longevity really benefit you? Sure the owners guaranteed that the revenues would be $20 billion by the end of the deal and yes, everything is based on percentages, but why wouldn’t you want to give yourself another shot at doing better in say, 5 or 7 years?
Fans and networks love the idea of a decade of labor peace, but is it right for the players? If I’m a player, that’s not a good investment for me. Players pay $15,000 a year in union dues. What is the union really going to do for me for the next 10 years? If I play the next decade in the league, I’m paying the union $150,000 in dues. Count all the NFL players and that’s $254 million over the course of the agreement.
Good thing the games are being played and the crowd is cheering because the owners are laughing pretty loudly in their luxury suites.