Even the NFL is not immune to the recession.

Even the NFL is not immune to the recession.

The 2010-11 National Football League (NFL) season began with a powerful sign of solidarity. Prior to the opening kickoff, members of the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings raised a hand in the air and pointed their index fingers towards the sky. The message to the owners, and to the millions of fans watching, was clear: despite bitter rivalries on the field, the players are united in their struggle. Other teams soon followed suit, pointing towards the sky and declaring their solidarity on national television. The league and team owners are in a bitter struggle with the players over a new collective bargaining agreement, and the prospects for a compromise are not promising.

The league and owners are seeking to reduce the share of league revenue set aside for player salaries by roughly eighteen percent. Currently the players receive around sixty percent ($4.8 billion) of the NFL’s total revenue, and the remaining forty percent ($3.2 billion) goes to the owners. The owner’s proposed agreement would result in an estimated $1 billion less being allocated between roughly 1,700 players composing the NFL’s various teams. The owners justify the proposed retention of a larger share of revenue in part by the decreased league revenues as a result of a faltering economy. According to In These Times, the owners “said they need to keep more of their profits so they can re-invest in the business by enhancing stadiums and pursuing new ventures, such as improving the NFL Network and holding more international games, moves that would ultimately benefit the players, too.”

The National Football League Player’s Association (NFLPA), the player’s union, is not buying the owner’s claims. The NFLPA is accusing the league of not being completely “forthcoming with their financial statements to back up the claim of a faltering business model.” With little progress since negotiating began, a lockout is a realistic possibility.

The struggle between the NFL and the NFLPA recently attracted attention from Congress. According to USA Today, “Republican Senators Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and George LeMieux (Florida) admonished the NFL and the NFL Players Association that their labor dispute could have wide-ranging effects if it devolves into a work stoppage.” In a letter to both parties, Sen. Graham encouraged a private settlement of differences without congressional involvement.

The players have a right to be upset in this situation. The NFL is not immune to the current economic recession. In a time when job security is a real concern for many Americans, the NFL players have a justifiable interest in protecting their livelihood. A reported lockout would result in an estimated $1 billion loss for the owners, not to mention unemployment for nearly 1700 athletes. But, the real losers if the threatened lockout comes to fruition is the millions of fans with nothing to cheer for on Sunday afternoons.

Ryan Sawyer

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