18-game season: $500 million issue

Hope floats for a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and the NFLPA with ongoing mediation sessions occurring in Washington. As I have often said over the past months, I have never believed the doom and gloom about the recent silence between the parties in this negotiation. Deadlines spur action.

As to the important issues at hand, I thought I would take the next couple of columns to dispel some folklore about key issues in the negotiation. As an equal opportunity myth buster, I will deal with both sides of the dispute.

Today’s “myth versus reality” comes from the owners’ side in the negotiation:

“The “enhanced” 18-game season is what the fans want”

Not really.

In theory, fans want more football, but the reality I keep hearing is that they don’t. In unscientific data from my barrage of emails and Twitter messages, the overwhelming response from fans has been “NO” to the 18-game schedule. That is consistent with what others with far greater reaches than I – such as Peter King of SI.com – have heard from audiences. And if we are hearing that in almost unanimous tones, the NFL is likely hearing the same. The feeling among fans is that a 16 game schedule is fine just the way it is; there is no need to fix what isn’t broken.

The NFL’s public comment – expressed through press conferences and an email from Commissioner Goodell to 5 million fans -- emphasizes the fact that there would be no change from the total number of games played by NFL players prior to the playoffs, a number of 20. Now, says Goodell, fans would get the benefit of 18 of those games that have meaning instead of 16 (the "18-2"). Goodell is explaining it as something that would "give fans more meaningful, high-quality football."

The reason behind the 18-2 is clear: follow the money. Creating two more meaningful and sellable games creates an enhanced inventory to sell to sponsors, suite and club seat holders, event planners and, of course, the broadcast networks. With the NFL looking under every rock for available new revenue streams – the sponsor categories of liquor and lotteries were opened up last year – this is a natural way to get there.

$500 million issue

In an interview with AP on January 13, NFL negotiator and outside counsel Bob Batterman – a key figure in this negotiation -- used a figure of $500 million of incremental revenue from the added games. When asked about the union not being interested in the 18-2 season, Batterman responded “That is $500 million that is not going to be generated, of which they would have had approximately half”.

In a labor dispute that is now separated by number not far off from $500 million, the 18-game schedule could be a bridge to labor peace. This is the reason why I have called the 18-game schedule a “game-changing issue” in this negotiation.

Good for business of the NFL

As Commissioner Goodell has noted about the CBA negotiations, this is a “business dispute”. And the 18-game schedule is good for business, as it creates new revenue to be shared by the players.

A better way to spin the 18-game schedule, which I think will be in the next CBA starting in 2012, is that it grows the revenue pie by $500 million, approximately half of which will go to the players.

When players see $250 million available to them for agreeing to this – in addition to concessions such as increased roster size, post-career health coverage, and much less contact in training camp – it becomes an easier “ask”.

When someone says, “It’s not about the money”, they usually mean: “It’s all about the money.”

And that’s ok. It's business.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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