Will Bob McNair Kill The 2011 NFL Season?

As some NFL fans know, the possibility is growing that there will not be a NFL season in 2011. The reason of course is that there is currently no agreed-upon Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the players, and while they're going to play this season, if the two sides don't come to an agreement, then there will be no season in 2011.

The sticking point, as always, is money. The owners will talk about the greedy players who want too much money and how the current percentage of league-wide revenue going to the players is unsustainable. The players will ask, as they already have, for the owners to open up the books and prove that there are actual, existing, financial problems. The owners will, of course, refuse, and offer to let the players look at highly-suspect, audited revenue numbers that would make Enron's accounting look honest. (The Green Bay Packers, being a publicly-owned team, are the exception to the no-opening-of-the-books rule)

But as much as this will be a PR battle between the owners and the players, the real battle is going to be between the owners.

Specifically, it's going to be a battle between owners like Jerry Jones and Bob McNair against teams like those in Green Bay and Jacksonville. The owners like Jones and McNair want to decrease the amount of revenue sharing between teams, and those teams that are in the small markets want to do everything possible to make sure they continue to financially compete against the big boys.

(This SI.com article does a good job of explaining some of the forces at play, in case you're interested in more details.)

Being that this is Houston, don't expect to hear too much on the owner versus owner aspect of this story. Especially where the Houston Chronicle and NFL expert John McClain are involved, since the criticism of Bob McNair appears to be forbidden.  But McNair is one of the leading forces in the league revenue-sharing battle, and it's his role in this battle that is the primary reason that Houston, despite some superior bids, has been unable to get another Super Bowl.  

The owners of the small-market teams, you see, can find no reason to award McNair with this prime money-making event since he's trying to cheat them out of money. So don't expect to see another Super Bowl in Houston for awhile, especially if McNair gets his way and the revenue-sharing plan is changed. (Arlington is getting the game because the NFL promised one if a new stadium was built for the Cowboys. But it's doubtful the Cowboys will be able to pull off getting another one unless Jerry Jones does something about his attitude.)

And as this battle plays out, expect the McNairs, Joneses, et al to forget one of the prime lessons learned by the likes of Pete Rozelle and Lamar Hunt back in the 1960s. The key to the growth of professional football, and what harmed Major League Baseball, was that Rozelle and Hunt realized that without equal revenue sharing - including equal sharing of all network TV and merchandising revenue - the small-market teams would never be able to keep up with the big market teams.

But with the likes of the Packers able to get the same revenue as the Giants and the Cowboys, they were able to stay competitive. And competitive balance meant that all fans in all cities knew that their teams had a chance of making the playoffs most years - nothing could help bad drafts, poor coaching, etc., however - so that kept TV viewership high, and high TV viewership meant that the NFL was able to get more and more money from the networks, and more and more money from the networks meant more and more money for the teams, which meant that teams could spend more on players which meant that the teams could keep competing on an even playing field financially which each other.

So while the story will be about the players and owners trying to come to agreement as to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the story underlying it all will be the battle between the owners over revenue sharing. And until that battle is settled, don't expect the one between the owners and the players to be settled.

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