NFL’s Current Contract Negotiations: Brave New World or Business as Usual?

With the negotiations over a new NFL collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between billionaire owners and millionaire players going nowhere and the current agreement due to expire March 4, will the dispute be resolved by the time the 2011 season starts in September? If so, will fans agree to buy season tickets and merchandise at higher prices and pay higher taxes to finance opulent new stadiums, or might there be a paradigm shift?

“The historian in me asks, why is it that the NFL is exempt from antitrust laws?” said Stephen Mosher, professor of sport management and media at Ithaca College. “Personally, I hope the current CBA does expire and the taxpayers of the cities and states who, in many cases, unwittingly underwrite and subsidize these private enterprises, just might force their governments to stop this practice.”

Though the money amounts aren’t as astronomical in the current labor dispute in Wisconsin as they are in the NFL, Mosher sees parallels between the union-busting stance of that state’s governor and NFL players voting to decertify their union so they can try for a court order to stop a lockout.

“The one major bargaining chip the players association has is the threat to decertify,” Mosher said. “If this occurs, the antitrust exemption the NFL enjoys can be more easily challenged.”

Mosher added, “It’s quite interesting that the attacks on union workers in Wisconsin are taking place in the state that’s home to the current Super Bowl champions. Given that the Green Bay Packers are a publicly owned business—the only one in the NFL—I find it historically significant that the roles unions play in protecting the livelihood of their members are being redefined and refocused.”

Even though the average salary of a player in the NFL is in the neighborhood of $1.8 million, Mosher cites the National Football League Players Association’s own studies that find the median salary is $770,000 and the mean salary is $1.4 million. In reality, Mosher said, because of taxes, agent’s fees and other expenses, the NFL isn’t nearly the “easy money” venue that many fans think. A select few players do end up quite wealthy, but the majority of players never even see a million dollars for their careers, which last, on average, three and a half years and often leave players permanently injured or disabled.

“Because the NFL generates about nine billion dollars of revenue a year, it might seem far-fetched to equate the National Football League Players Association with unions representing teachers, police and firefighters,” Mosher said. “But in light of antitrust legislation, they’re cut from the same historical cloth.”

Mosher studies human behavior and popular culture as it is expressed in all varieties of sport. His research areas include the history of sport in popular culture, sport and politics, and sport ethics and moral development.

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