I have been criticized by some for siding with the players in my recent columns on the escalating labor dispute between NFL owners and players. This is to be expected, as Sports Fans Coalition is a consumer group and we are concerned with the business practices of the owners on issues from ticket prices to television blackouts. So it's only natural that we would be more critical of the owners.
But this is a labor dispute, with two sides battling for what they perceive to be as a fair share of the money we, the fans, give them.
So here is the perspective of the NFL, as best I can gather. Who better to speak for the owners than Dallas Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones?
"What you need to do is address a car wreck years before it gets there," Jones said during a recent interview. "That's when you can do something about it."
When asked what that car wreck was, Jones replied: "Basically, the model that we have does not work. The economic model of the NFL that we have, relative to the players does ... not ... work."
Jones emphasized those three words as if trying to refute the conventional wisdom that the NFL is the most profitable sport in the world and the league has never been more popular. After all, of the 20 highest rated telecasts of any kind this season, 18 have been NFL games.
A couple weeks ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke about a possible 2011 work stoppage and offered four concerns the owners have.
"In any negotiations, you have the economics, clearly," Goodell said. "And then we look at the rookie wage system, the 18-and-2 schedule and several issues, really, including our drug program. I believe we need to make sure we have the best drug program in sports."
Of course, the rookie wage system and the proposed 18-game schedule are really about economics, and let's put aside drug testing, considering that it's an issue in most collective bargaining negotiations.
Owners want a rookie salary cap because they feel rookie salaries are spiraling out of control.
"Rookies should be paid fairly, but they should not be among the highest-paid NFL players before playing a single down," Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy wrote in a Washington Post op-ed earlier this month. "Teams don't like it. Veterans and retired players don't like it. Fans don't like it. And the players' union shouldn't like it, either."
(It should be noted that Murphy is not an owner but represents the 112,158 shareholders of the Packers. Murphy serves on the NFL's 10-member Management Council Executive Committee which is responsible for labor negotiations.)
As for the 18-game season, the owners are fighting the obvious concern that more games will mean more concussions and other injuries for players. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross recently said, "The additional games, the studies show will not really increase injuries. We're still playing 20 games, we're eliminating two preseason games and adding two regular-season games, which is really what helps with the revenues, and make the fans a lot happier and those games will be a lot more meaningful. But in terms of the players, they're still playing 20 games."
Of course, two preseason games are not equivalent to two meaningful regular season games that would be played by starters, something the NFL itself has acknowledged. But the NFL defended Ross' comments, "Mr. Ross made basic factual points that have been made repeatedly - that we are not proposing to add to the current 20-game season and that the overall injury rate per game remains consistent," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.
Still, more games mean more revenue. And at the end of the day, this is all about money.
The NFL is concerned about the long-term growth of the business. Even though revenues have never been higher, they think they need to continue to "grow" the game and that that will mean larger revenues for the players. To do so, they want to take a larger share of the revenues off the top.
"I think players will benefit from the ‘growing the pie' theory because they ultimately have percentages of how that pie grows," Jones said during his 60 Minutes interview.
But when asked if he thought a lockout would be "disastrous" for the game, he replied: "No. I do not. But I know that the sentiment is not to have a lockout."
Sorry, but I refuse to present Jones' argument on that point objectively. A lockout would be disastrous -- at least for the fans.
It's up to him and the other owners to get together with the players and make sure it doesn't happen.
And it's up to the fans to keep the pressure on both groups.