Tonight the NFL draft gets underway in New York. This is the last vestige of the now abandoned labor agreement between the players and owners. In 2006 when the last agreement was signed both sides agreed that even if the owners opted out of the agreement after the 2010 season (they did) and even if there was a lockout (there was) the draft would go on as scheduled. This is also highly ironic in that the draft is a restraint of trade and yet no one ever talks about it and everyone agrees to let the draft continue on.
The owners are attempting to overturn the trial court judge’s ruling issued in Minneapolis ending the lockout. The two sides are scheduled to resume mediation efforts in mid-May that were ordered by the trial judge. At this point any settlement seems a long way off. That strikes many people as incredible, given the huge amounts of money at stake if this impasse affects the 2011 season.
During all of this government officials at every level of our system have largely remained silent. Congress has held hearings in recent years on the steroids issue in baseball and on problems with the Bowl Championship Series in major college football. Yet the only comments made by members of Congress are that the federal government should stay out of this dispute. State and local officials have been mute on the subject.
This silence is interesting because federal government action in 1961 and in the 1980s made possible the negotiation of the massive TV contracts that have largely fueled the growth of the NFL. State and local governments have provided tax breaks and underwritten bond issues to finance team facilities. Some of the costs of these facilities are paid for by use taxes on a variety of goods and services consumed by the public.
The owners are given significant federal income tax breaks by being allowed to depreciate the value of player contracts over time. Federal and state governments underwrite the medical treatment and incomes of many ex-players through disability programs.
Government officials constantly justify spending large sums of money on NFL teams (as well as teams in other pro leagues) by pointing to the economic benefits to localities that teams produce. This point is made constantly, even though there are no serious economic studies that have shown this statement to be true. Yet faced with the loss of revenues and jobs if the upcoming season is lost in part or in total we hear nothing from politicians.
Owners are billionaires and a lot of players are millionaires. Modern players have a generous pension and medical plan. This is in contrast the tens of thousands of ordinary people who stand to lose jobs and benefits. The giant revenue pie that is the NFL is heavily financed by the public; yet the people elected by the public to look after their interests are standing idly by while the impasse continues.
By Evan Weiner
What can people working in sports administration and management do to help influence solutions to problems such as the NFL labor dispute? How will these issues play out in upcoming negotiations for new labor contracts in the NBA and in Major League Baseball? Do these sorts of issues have any relevance for college and high school sports? These are issues explored in degree programs at the United States Sports Academy. For more information, go to http://ussa.edu.