Fans don't matter in sports
MONDAY, 16 MAY 2011 14:43
BY EVAN WEINER
THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
And so the National Football League lockout has become a version of the People's Court. The good guys, the National Football League Players Association, are fighting for workers' rights and are begging "fans" to help them lift the lockout. The owners, the bad guys, want to take away the players ability to make truckloads of money and are threatening their long term health care. Wait, the players have done such a great job in past collective bargaining agreements that former players lose health benefits five years after their playing careers are done and only if a player has three years in the league.
The "People's Court" is now playing in Minneapolis, Minnesota where United States District Judge David Doty is figuring out of the owners owe the players money over how the league managed to negotiate TV contracts to protect that side if in the event of a 2011 lockout. The players are seeking $707 million in damages. The fans will get ZERO if Judge Doty gives the players a monetary award even through a good chunk of that TV money comes from the cable TV subscriber-based ESPN and the satellite pay service DirecTV. In fact a good many people who never watch an NFL game on either ESPN or DirecTV are subsidizing the billions of dollars that ESPN and DirecTV pays the NFL.
The chances are that Judge David Doty will not address relief for subscribers are great. Fans are not a part of the lockout equation. Cable TV subscribers never received a rebate in 1994 and 1995 when Major League Baseball shutdown the 1994 season and the National Hockey League's lockout did not end until January leaving cable TV subscribers without a product from mid-September 1994 through January 1995. An awful lot of teams had local cable TV deals in 1994 and 1995 and subscribers were playing for something that they didn't get. Programming in terms of games which they were charged for. In 1998-99, the National Basketball Association locked out the league players for about 30 games. Not one cable TV subscriber received a penny back for missed games. Interestingly enough the owner of the Golden State Warriors, Chris Cohan, tried to stiff the Oakland Alameda Coliseum Authority and not pay rent at the Oakland Arena during the NBA lockout.
An arbitrator smacked down Cohan and forced him to pay rent for missed games.
No one has ever looked after cable TV or satellite TV subscribers and gotten consumers money back for missed games because of labor actions.
Judge Doty also should bring up the fitness of Rupert Murdoch (FOX owned and operated stations such as Channels 5 and 9 in New York and Channel 29 in Philadelphia), Sumner Redstone (Channel 2 in New York, Channel 3 in Philadelphia) and Comcast-GE's Channel 4 in New York and Channel 10 in Philadelphia for agreeing to deals with the NFL that would underwrite a lockout by supplying a full TV rights fee even if there was a lockout.
The question here that needs to be asked in court is how people who have public licenses to run TV stations nationally (and program networks and syndication arms—FOX is not a network but a syndication company) like Murdoch, Redstone and the NBC owners (General Electric when the contract was signed) could use monies generated by a business that is owned by the public---a television station---to provide a foundation for a lockout/strike war chest?
Television is one of the three essentials of the sports business. The trilogy is government (government builds stadiums, provides tax breaks for the business, creates cable TV rules and allows businesses to write off part of the expense of a luxury box, club seats, tickets and dining in a stadium or arena restaurant), cable TV (in the case of the NBA, NHL and Major League baseball through regional sports channels) and corporate support.
The fans don't count for much except undying loyalty to a team.
Despite all of the fans "concerns" no one is protecting them while the owners and players have an army of high priced lawyers taking care of their interests.
The other "People's Court" venue is in St. Louis where an Eight Court of Appeals panel has been reviewing Judge Susan Nelson's order to lift the lockout.
The battle between the NFL and the former players association has been defined as billionaires versus millions. That is not true at all. It is multi-faceted with elected officials having their hands all over this lockout. Here's why. Politicians pushed stadiums after the 1986 federal tax code revisions to become "big league." Canadian sportswriters have it all wrong when they blame National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman for the league's "sunbelt strategy" and expansion into Atlanta, Nashville, Tampa, Miami, Anaheim and San Jose (although neither Anaheim nor San Jose are in the sunbelt) and franchise relocations into Raleigh, Dallas, Denver and Phoenix. New arenas came online with sweetheart leases and begged to get into the NHL. The same thing happened in the National Basketball Association, the NFL and Major League Baseball.
To those Canadians sportswriters who keep spewing the same nonsense about Bettman’s southern strategy and get it wrong constantly. The NHL decided to expand to 30 teams from 21 in 1990, four years after the revision in the tax code while Bettman was working at the NBA.
Cities bid against one another for teams and when the league would not expand into a city, an existing club owner picked up and moved to a city waiting with open arms. In the NFL, Baltimore, St. Louis, Nashville and Oakland got teams. As more cities built NFL facilities and handed out sweetheart leases, the ones left behind---Minnesota, Oakland and San Diego---could not maximize or match the revenues in their old stadiums. The new places in East Rutherford (for the Jets and Giants), Arlington (the Dallas Cowboys) and Indianapolis (where Jim Irsay hit the lottery in terms of what he has to pay in order to rent the new facility) pushed up league revenues and raised the salary cap for players. It also brought up the salary floor and the less revenue producing stadiums were not printing out the right amount of money for NFL owners. Literally some teams cannot keep up to the Joneses (okay Jerry and Stephen Jones and the Cowboys) and that is why the NFL wants to cut the slice of the revenues the players get from 59 to 48 percent and reduce salaries.
The players, of course, want no part of that seeing how TV monies are enormous and that NFL owners seem to be swimming in money. The players want the owners to show them the books. The owners won't give them the books the players are seeking. The majority of the players don’t make millions and have short careers.
It is all about "Money Now" on both sides of the argument.
Previous incarnations of the National Football Players Association (this version doesn't exist, wink-wink, as the players association officially decertified in March) have ignored the long time health needs of the players and have always stuck to the "Money Now" mantra, a slogan which appeared in 1982. A lot of people knew that playing surfaces in Philadelphia and Houston and other places were not good for the players. The players did nothing about the surfaces of stadiums that were built on the back of taxpayers.
The multi-purpose stadiums built in the 1960s, Houston, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and other places had an artificial field which was separated from a concrete type surface by a piece of foam or other flimsy padded material. Players knew the fields were not safe yet the people who were watching out after their interests worried about "Money Now."
By the way, where are the municipal leaders who lead the rush to get stadiums built for NFL owners (and other sports)? President Barack Obama has washed his hands of the NFL lockout as has the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Republican Lamar Smith of Texas. Apparently all elected officials want to stay clear of the NFL lockout despite the fact that the NFL clearly has been built by Congress (the Sports Broadcast Act of 1961, the 1966 AFL-NFL merger, the 1984 Cable TV bill that allowed cable operators to bundle channels on a basic tier and forced subscribers to pay for all channels on a basic tier -- the tier that became the home to sports -- whether the subscribers watch sports programming or not and the 1986 tax code revision which changed the way municipally funded stadiums and arenas were financed and placed the burden of paying off the debt on taxpayers) and helped along by local elected officials.
There is no bully pulpit pressure on either side. There is no Congressional pressure. Missing in action on the subject are Governors like Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo, Tom Corbett, Rick Snyder, Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Jerry Brown, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Jan Brewer. Minnesota's Mark Dayton is busy looking to get New Jersey's Zygi Wilf a stadium for his Minnesota Vikings despite the lockout. Tough guy politicians are beating up on municipal workers and teachers yet have not voiced an opinion on the NFL lockout which may close stadiums in the fall. The same stadiums politicians have claimed are economic engines for the community.
The fans are being hosed and yet they always come back although not necessarily in the stadiums or arenas. Fans have been priced out by NFL owners unless they want to pay a fortune of money for a seat. But fans can always sit in front of a TV and the owners will make money from rights fees and from cable TV, it doesn't matter if no one watches. The ESPNs and the regional sports channels of the world get their money from subscriber fees. That is part of the argument that has been redacted from the Judge David Doty's courtroom. No one, from NFL lawyers, to the people who are representing an organization that allegedly went out of business on March 11, the NFLPA, to the cable TV network executives want to touch. It would just bring unwanted trouble.
NFL beat writers for newspapers aren't going to report on that either and it would not be in the best interests of ESPN SportsCenter, ESPN's Outside the Lines, the fluff ESPN shows that feature sportswriters like Mike Lupica and a gang of know nothings talking about nonsense, or the CBS, NBC, FOX or Disney's ABC news to discuss that aspect of the lockout. The television executives have a big role in this lockout. They are not complaining about their partner's---NFL owners--business strategy. Corporate partners have also been very quiet about the NFL's tactics. The only ones complaining are the bottom feeders---the fans.
The NFL is just the first in the queue. NBA owners and players don't have a collective bargaining agreement after June 30. The Major League Baseball owners and players six-year collective bargaining agreement ends in December and the National Hockey League owners and players deal is done in September 2012.
It's all about money.
Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at bickley.com, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle.