As the draft is approaching in a short number of days, many fans are starting to pay attention to the NFL and their respective teams as it is the most exciting part of the off season. And most of us die hard fans are aware of how the current lockout is hurting our team’s ability to prepare for the season via free agency, OTAs, and communications players--the teams we have an unhealthy alliance to have holes to fill and watching chances for our teams to improve wither on the vine while the owners attempt to rewrite the terms of the business is a frustration we can all do without.
And for the record: I am firmly on the side of the players. How the owners can tear up a current contract and claim hardship while the game has grown in revenue and popularity to it’s current pinnacle under the current labor agreement is laughable. No, new TV contracts are on the horizon, and this is a blatant money grab.
While some players don’t have the resources to get by in an extended work stoppage, the players themselves do have more leverage than they think, outside of the courtroom. It is in this moment of collective insanity among the owners that their backsides are exposed, and their monopoly can be threatened.
So, in a simple exercise, we can break down what exactly a owner of a football team owns and what exactly a football team is. What a football team doesn’t own is the easiest place to start. They don’t own the stadiums, they are for the most part publicly financed buildings that they have leases to. They don’t own the game of football itself. And they don’t own the product they are selling. The product they are selling is currently locked out and across the table from them in what can only be described as bad faith negotiations. What the owners do own: some practice facilities, some team stores full of logo merchandise, some bags of balls and pads and jerseys etc., etc. They have TV contracts, but so would any other selling the same product. In short, what they own is nothing more than a brand name. The league owns a cable channel, and NFL films--which is nothing more than footage of players--the product. Would Jim Brown be getting a residual check each time he graces the screen of NFL network? Unlikely.
So what began as a simple question to myself regarding the upcoming season: “Would I watch replacement players if it went that far?” simply answered no --became: “Would I watch a replacement team with the same players?” And the answer was yes. I have no allegiance to logo on the helmet, only team representing my city with the best possible football team.
And if the union formerly known as the NFLPA were to propose a new league filled with teams residing in their current cities, honoring current player contracts, and delivering the same product (the best players in the world) with a new business structure of an employee owned/public partnership modeled after the Green Bay Packers that tied the new team to the community without threats of relocations or lockouts--I would watch it. I would buy tickets, and I wouldn’t care if there was a different logo on the helmet.
In such a league I don’t imagine there would be problems getting former players health care, or ridiculous fines, or ridiculous rule changes, or ridiculous owners like Jerry Jones or Al Davis. And the current owners would be left holding the bag, one filled with left over t-shirts and caps with logos of teams nobody follows. A worthless brand.
Would the owners take such a threat as realistic? Which league would any incoming players from college want to play for? Would the owners want to risk it? I say it’s time for the players to think bigger, to go to the table with a new bargaining chip, one of a competing product. And demand a chunk of the ownership position or else, because they are the product the owners are selling.
And yeah, it’s socialism. Ask the defending Super Bowl champs if it works.