It’s A Typical Football Off Season, Or Is It?

No matter who you talk to, no one really wants to discuss football.  Let’s face it, there is not much to talk about.  With owners and players at a stalemate and leaving it up to the courts, even they have nothing to talk about.  For the first time since 1987, we are all at a standstill.

For once, all football fans are on the same page, waiting.  Waiting to see when this lockout will not just end, but how soon.  The media does not have much to report on.  Many should be reporting on free agent signings, contract negotiations, off season workouts, and so much more.  But there is not even that to discuss.  Sports writers and reporters have to scrounge for ideas and stories like they are going dumpster diving, trying to find any scrap to talk about.

Greg Bishop of the New York Times wrote a great piece concerning the Jets and what they are doing, or not doing.
“Players are not allowed inside the building. The Jets cannot make trades or sign their numerous free agents. Employees on the team’s business side, everyone from secretaries to executive vice presidents, are staring at the possibility of forced work furloughs. And those involved in the organization’s football operations — coaches among them — are working under a 25 percent pay cut.

Like all N.F.L. teams, the Jets are on a novel campaign to carry on as an organization. Some looming decisions, like how to refund tickets if games are canceled this fall, have nothing to do with football on the field. Others relate to more basic and familiar football questions — whom to draft, for instance, late next month. The Jets will not be able to sign their selections, but they still have to make them.

The greatest sense of paralysis probably is being felt by Tannenbaum and his staff. The Jets have 15 expiring contracts, including those of key players like Cromartie and wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards.”

This is a key time for the Jets.  For the second consecutive year, they made it to the AFC Championship and lost.  They have the tools to go to the Super Bowl.  By not being able to negotiate with free agents, talk to players and agents, there will be little time to make up once the lockout ends.  Depending how close it is to opening day.  The Jets will have to run their own hurry up offense just to make sure the pieces are there to make a run in 2011.

Mike Tannenbaum might also have to make changes on handling the draft.  In previous seasons, he has selected high quality players, regardless of their position.  Vernon Gholston was a choice of Eric Mangini, not Tannenbaum.  In this season of the lockout, with needs on the defensive line, at safety, and with three key receivers potentially free agents, he could draft to key positions.  They need a big time pass rusher.  But when it comes to the Jets, they usually surprise many on their choices.

The players, for their part, face their own challenges and quandaries . During the lockout, players are on their own for their workouts.  Cornerback Darrelle Revis put the offer out to host all defensive backs at his home in Arizona to help with training and development. Some may take him up on it while others may not want to spend to make the trip. Many are working out at local colleges and high schools.  Five members of the Jets’ secondary are free agents, and if any are injured, their careers could be hindered without the backing of a team to help with their rehabilitation.

Let me show you where players are not currently training

For first year players, Kyle Wilson, Vladimir Ducasse, John Conner and Joe McKnight of last years draft class, they will suffer more. They will not receive any instruction from their coaches.  They will be missing out on key guidance.   First year rookies all over will not have the tutelage other players have had in the past.  They need to rely on veteran players right now.

Of course, many of these issues could become a memory, as the players have sought, a federal judge in Minnesota grants an injunction barring the owners from continuing to implement the lockout.

Still, fans remain positive on there being a 2011 season.  In a call with Fireman Ed, he knows they have months to go to settle things.  But if the judge makes the decision favoring the owners, then there is a chance this could go on for a while.  Ed knows the Jets have the right tools to build on this past season.  But when coaches and players can not talk, there is not much to build on.  Ed feels some of the smaller market team owners have a bigger say in this and are trying to get more out of it.  For a fan as passionate as Fireman Ed, even he has nothing to talk about regarding football.

Every player across the league is experiencing the same woes as the Jets players.  Many would love the chance to workout at their teams facilities, but have to make makeshift plans to schedule the same type of workouts.

Every team owner, coach, and General manager has to make plans about the upcoming season and put them away in a file.  Only to come back to them later on the chance there is a season to come back to.  Then they have to use their 2 minute drill to get those carefully laid plans into place.  Time is on their side, for now.

So we all wait collectively.  Like a $300 million dollar lottery hoping our numbers are the ones to be called.  Sitting on the edge of our seats for that big announcement of a 2011 season.  But no one will be happier than the team employees who were forced into pay cuts and furloughs.  The players will come next, followed by the team management.  But in the end, the fans will breathe a sigh of relief once they know there is an opening day kickoff.

NFL Fans Ache From Their Favorite Teams

I normally write about the New York Jets and their fans.  The decisions the Jets organization makes and how it affects their season ticket holders.  The way fans prepare for home games and how they celebrate on the black top.  But now all football fans stand together.  Banded by our desire to watch the sport we love to only be shut out by a dispute between the players and their employers.

What you’re about to read focuses on give and take. So often is the case when professional sports franchises and money are involved, the customer winds up on the losing end.

The National Football League might not give its fans a single game this year. That hasn’t stopped almost all of its owners from taking money from their most loyal supporters.  We all remember what happened in 1987.  The owners still made money then in a makeshift season while fans suffered the first few games.

As if we needed another example of gang greed there’s this knee slapper: All but one of the NFL’s 32 teams is requiring season-ticket holders to submit deposits for next season, even though there might not be a season.

Only the New York Giants, the team of the late Wellington Mara, who long ago sacrificed for the good of the game and the welfare of the league, seems to understand that pay-for-play is the only plan that makes sense at this moment.

The late Leon Hess, former owner of the New York Jets, also had the same feelings.  He sent a letter to all season ticket holders saying he would not raise ticket prices until his team turned itself around on the field.

The Giants soon will send a letter to their 21,000 season ticket accounts, almost all of which have multiple ticket holders, saying that the team doesn’t think it’s right to take deposits while owners and players are firing insults over Twitter on how to share $9 billion in annual revenue.  The Giants are making themselves stand out from the other teams by showing a heart.

“Our season-ticket holders have made a significant financial commitment to our organization over the course of the last couple of years,” said Pat Hanlon, a spokesman for the Giants, who, along with the Jets, share the $1.6 billion New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey. “We just felt, given the circumstances, that it was the right thing to do and the fair thing to do.”

Doing Right

What we have here is something rarer than a Jets Super Bowl parade. We have a professional sports team showing more than a single shred  of concern for the customer, not only saying the right thing but doing it.  There is rarely seen in professional sports.  Something more team owners need to show to their season ticket holders.

Hanlon, a good company man, did his best to portray the other clubs kindly by saying what’s best for the Giants isn’t necessarily what other teams should do.  But it still shines a bad light on the others if only one team does the right thing by its fans.

“Each team has to operate within its own personality and its own way of handling its business,” he said.

Unfortunately, most professional sports teams have a default personality of greed. There’s no excuse for taking the deposit. Not that the NFL didn’t try to invent one, of course.

League spokesman Brian McCarthy said clubs believed there could be “operational issues” to not having season tickets renewed. You know, like getting commitments and processing payments in a short time after a settlement.  But with the layoffs it shows they really did not need those payments to keep their operations afloat.

Refund Policy

The Giants, according to Hanlon, have no such worries.  No Giants season ticket holder has never wanted their season tickets.

“The process we’ve established has addressed those concerns,” he said. So let’s get this straight: The Giants can solve the problem but the other teams can’t. Right.  Is this a case of greed or precaution?

It gets worse.

The NFL in November, anticipating a possible labor mess, disclosed its refund policy in the event of a lockout. The league mandate states that teams must issue full refunds no later than 30 days after final determination of how many games will be played during the 2011 season.

The league, however, allowed teams to set their own policies on whether ticket buyers should receive accrued interest on their deposits.  Which makes sense.  If the teams hold onto your money and make interest on it, the season ticket holder should be owed that accrued interest.

Let’s use the New England Patriots as an example. The Patriots in recent weeks sent three letters to their season ticket holders. The first was from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who outlined management’s side of the labor stalemate. The second came from Patriots owner Bob Kraft and his son, Jonathan, the club president, echoing much of the commissioner’s message.

Interest Due

And then the season-ticket renewal package arrived, requiring full payment by March 31. New England’s refund will include interest calculated at an annual rate of 1 percent. A check of bankrate.com shows that certain Banks offer a 1.08 percent return on a six-month certificate of deposit. It’s absurd that a team, like the Chicago Bears, which won’t give fans interest on their deposits, could make even a penny. It’s not about the money, which to someone with enough disposable income to buy tickets is negligible. It’s the principle.

The New York Jets are asking for 50% due by April 1st.  With PSL money still due later this year, the Jets still feel they need to hold onto the money rather than be on the same side as the Giants.  In the battle between the New York football clubs from the corporate offices, the Giants won this round.

It’s no surprise that the Giants are the only team making such a gesture to its fans. The team’s chief executive officer is John Mara, the oldest of his father’s 11 children. It was Wellington Mara who championed revenue sharing, even though it meant less for his team.  It shows in the fact the Giants used to have a 50 Years Club for season ticket holders who had season tickets for 50 plus years.  They cared about their long standing fans and still do, in a way.

Right and fair. Two important words. Just like give and take.

Gang Greed: More Than A Documentary Title

When I set out to film this documentary in August of 2008, I set out to tell the fans side.  To let the fans speak about what it means to be a Jets fan.  How the new PSL’s were going to affect their status as a season ticket holder.  Were they going to invest in them or stop going to games altogether.  Now, it seams, no one may be going to any games in 2011.

National Football League team owners locked out the league’s players Saturday, shutting down professional football for the first time in 24 years and plunging the nation’s most popular and prosperous sport into a time of uncertainty.

The owners acted after labor talks with the players’ union collapsed Friday afternoon and players decertified the NFL Players Association, moving the bitter dispute into the courts and ending an era of NFL labor peace that had lasted since players went on strike in 1987.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, joined at left by Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, speaks with reporters as negotiations between the NFL owners and players go unresolved

Decertifying the NFL Players Association enabled the players to file antitrust litigation against the owners, which they did late Friday, with superstar quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees among the 10 named plaintiffs. Lawyers for the players also announced that they are seeking an injunction to lift the lockout.

Some still wonder if all of this was worth the headache.  Not just for the players and owners, but the fans as well.  Both the Jets and Giants issued apologies to the fans for the lockout.  The players feel they did what they could but were left with no other choice.

The team owners will complain they are losing money.  I am sure they will have no issues paying their bills though.  The income is a loss for their business, not them personally.  Some younger players will feel the crunch if they are not playing.  Many veteran players have investments and other business ventures that will help them get by.  But in the end, they will all be on the losing end.

Does anyone really win when this happens?  When the last lockout occurred in 1987, who won that battle?  The players were n strike while the owners went out and hired “scabs” to play out the season.  Will the team owners o the same thing this year?  Probably not.  They all want to get this rectified before training camp begins.  The fans would like it done sooner.

For season ticket holders, they would like to know sooner than later.  Many are pleased only 50% is due and not the whole bill.  It gives some longer to get that money together.  But knowing a season will happen is better knowing now rather than three weeks into a season.  We are on the outside looking in, wondering if a sport many of us enjoy will even happen this year.

Last week Judge David S. Doty ruled that the NFL violated the collective bargaining agreement with its players by renegotiating $4.078 billion in television rights fees for team owners to tap during a lockout even if no games are played in 2011.  Why should the owners be entitled to money if there is no season?  Should the players get paid if they do not play?

Both sides have their issues.  Many players feel the union walked away from a deal that sounded good and met their needs, despite the negative media attention towards the NFL and its owners.  According to that statement the NFL released the latest proposal’s details included:

1. The NFL proposed that the two sides split the economic differences between them, increasing their proposed cap for 2011 “significantly” and accepting the NFLPA’s proposed cap number for 2014, which was $161 million per team.

2. The NFL proposed an entry level compensation system that was based on the union’s “rookie cap” instead of a wage scale that the clubs originally proposed. In this proposal, the players drafted from rounds 2-7 would be paid the same amount of money, or even more money, than they are paid now. The savings that would come from the first-round picks would be reallocated to help veteran players and benefits.

3. After a player is injured, the NFL would guarantee that they would pay up to $1 milllion of that player’s salary for the contract year. This is the first time that the owners have offered a standard multi-year injury guarantee.

4. The following changes would be made immediately to promote player safety:

  • Reduce the off-season program by five weeks, reducing OTAs from 14 weeks to 10 and limiting on-field practice time and contact.
  • They would limit full-contact practices in the preseason and regular season
  • They would increase the number of off days for players

5. The NFL proposed that any change from a 16-game season to an 18-game season would only be made if the two sides agreed on the change. The 2011 and 2012 seasons would be 16-game seasons.

6. The NFL team owners would boost retirement benefits for more than 2,000 former players by nearly 60 percent by funding retirees benefits $82 million in 2011 and 2012.

7. The owners offered current players the opportunity to stay in their current medical plans for the rest of their lives.

8. The owners would allow third-party arbitrators in the NFL’s drug and steroid programs.

9. The owners would improve the Mackey plan (designed for players suffering from dementia and other brain-related problems), disability plan and their degree completion bonus program.

10. The owners proposed a per-club cash minimum spend of 90 percent of the salary cap over three seasons.

Now that you know the particulars of the deal, do you still agree with the NFLPA’s decision to decertify and go to court with the NFL?

    Yes, the negotiations have been messy and well-publicized but progress was made before the recent burning of bridges.  After having half the month of March in extensions of negotiations, both sides were reportedly off by $185 million on how much owners should get up from each season for certain operating expense before splitting up the rest of the revenues with players. That’s a far less amount than the $1 billion difference that separated the two sides earlier in discussions.

    New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, right, heads into labor talks with the league's negotiators.

    A recent poll by ProFootballTalk.com asked fans to place blame on who is responsible for the lockout and 27,000 have said that the player’s are to blame, barely. Just over 38% say the players are to blame, while 24.8% blame the owners and 36.7% blame both.

    Many say this is the billionaires vs the millionaires.  Two sides who get paid well, fighting to be paid more.  If you own a professional football team, one would think you already had enough.  Some of that may go to team operations and other bills to be paid, but many know where the bottom line ends.  Players put their bodies on the line and should see a little more compensation.  Let’s see Woody Johnson or the Mara or Tisch families out there to battle for that extra compensation.  I think not.

    So while the league and the union continue to bicker like a divorced couple fighting over bank accounts, the fans are the ones who are truly hurting from this dispute, like a child overhearing their parents argument.

    NFL Fans Should Pay For Their Tickets, Not Stadiums

    The Georgia Dome in Atlanta remains a perfectly fine building for professional football. Still a teenager, it is nowhere near long in the tooth. Capacity is enough to accommodate nearly every Atlanta Falcons fan willing to buy tickets.

    Arthur Blank, the team owner, craves a new stadium. That seems akin to trading in your car after it has logged only 20,000 miles, but he can well afford it.  Blank, the former owner of the ubiquitous American home improvement store chain called The Home Depot, has a net worth of $1.2 billion, according to Forbes, and the franchise value has risen 52 per cent since he bought it in 2002 for $545 million.

    But wait. Blank expects the quasi-public agency that operates the Dome and the proposed site of a new stadium to issue bonds that would pay some of the costs. That should be 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct, sticking it to taxpayers at the same time that funding for public schools in Georgia is being cut.

    This sickness is spreading among NFL team owners. In Minnesota, the Vikings’ Zygi Wilf has capitalized on the collapse of the Metrodome’s inflatable roof amid a once-in-a-lifetime snowstorm and the fear of the franchise relocating to Los Angeles in his campaign for a replacement stadium. Of course, citizens would contribute to the project. Never mind that Blank might expect Wilf, worth $1.3bn, to pick up their lunch bill.

    The shameless nonchalance of these folks who seem detached from reality has generated a shifting of the winds.  We have already experienced it here in New York and New Jersey.

    The public, which normally sides with management during labor disputes in American sports, is sympathetic toward the players in a stand-off with owners that has pushed the league to the brink of a lockout.  In a poll conducted by Seton Hall University, 35 per cent who participated backed the players, compared to 22 per cent for their bosses. This, even though the same study found that most contend the players are overpaid.

    Taxpayers are increasingly fed up with being forced to become stadium-erecting partners with Rolex-wearing, yacht-sailing jet-setters. Economists nowadays agree on little, but one belief they share is that public support of professional sports offers almost nothing financially in return.

    DSC05891

    The Giants and Jets grew tired of their shared arena and convinced the government to pitch in for a new-and-improved one. The old Giants Stadium was torn down despite carrying more than $100m in debt that must be paid off by the good people of New Jersey.  Plus, the season ticket holders are also helping flip the bill on the new one with PSL’s.  Isn’t that double dipping?  The nerve!

    Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, stands complicit in this wasteful building boom. From his office comes a wink-nod promise of the ultimate in ego gratification for owners: host your own Super Bowl! Just throw up a stadium and you will get the big game. How you bankroll it, that’s your business.

    Which explains why the 2014 Super Bowl was awarded to New Meadowlands in a region where the average low temperature in February is -2°C.  Which also explains why 22 of 32 teams have moved into fresh digs or had their existing ones totally made over in the last two decades.

    In that time, teams have been blessed with more than $7bn in taxpayer subsidies for construction and renovation, according to the NFL Players’ Association.

    The players union reports that, on average, taxpayers put up 65 per cent of the financing for those projects. Owners found a way to avoid putting in any money for 10 of them; for nine others, their contribution amounted to less than 25 per cent.

    Further driving public sentiment toward the players are reports on the sport’s inherent physical risk, particularly for victims of post-concussive syndrome that has ravaged retirees. Fans are looking beyond the average salary of $1.9m and discovering other statistics:

    $770,000, the median yearly pay.  ŸThree-and-a-half years, the average length of career.  Eleven, the average number of players per team on injured reserve this past season.

    While many of us might trade places with the players, the figures show that most of them accumulate more aches and pains than enough wealth to last them a lifetime.

    For team owners, it is a different story. Admittance into the club all but guarantees going from rich to richer, experienced from the comfort of a stadium luxury suite.

    Fine. That is the American way. But those who knock on government doors seeking handouts to finance mostly unnecessary arenas should instead heed the marketing message aimed at customers of Blank’s old home improvement stores.

    Do it yourself.