NFL lockout: NFL strikes gold with salaries, not sharing argument

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 21: NFL executive Vice President Jeff Pash (L) attends the NFL Annual Owners Meetings at the Roosevelt Hotel on March 21, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Despite a NFL owners imposed lockout in effect since March 12 the league is conducting its annual owners meeting in New Orleans. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

It's late, I'm tired and I probably shouldn't jump into another lockout post, but I'm going to anyway. The NFL and the league's owners may have just made a smart pivot with their strategy: arguing that player salaries will not be harmed and continue to grow in their future vision of the league's financial operations

The argument from the players in the face of the NFL's h-hour offer in mediation last month was that the league's proposal cut them out of revenue sharing, taking away their share of the revenue growth. And for the most part that was true. Players were being asked to give up a very significant chunk on money with profits almost certain to increase each year. 

But the league's out late today telling players (and John Q. Six Packs like you and me) to focus on the salaries themselves, not the percentage of the pie. Player salaries would continue to grow just as they have each year without taking a step backwards from where they are now. 

My only question is why the hell it took the league so long to make this argument. From a PR standpoint, it's a golden ticket, or it can be (probably better put Jeff Pash away right now though). And I'm pretty unabashedly pro player in this fight. It's going to be hard to counter this point, especially when, as the source in the PFT article points out, the owners note that players get 50 percent of the profits while the owners still have to pay bills out of the other 50 percent, their 50 percent. 

This line of argument might do more to expedite a new CBA than any judge or panel of judges can. I'll be interested to see how the players respond. 

One interesting philosophical change underscoring this approach, the owners vision for a new CBA, is that it changes the role of players. The NFL is unique in that only a very small percentage of human beings can provide the product it offers, football. It's why we watch the NFL and not the UFL (and there's plenty of monopoly, trust argument wrapped up in that). Players share in the revenue because they are the product. It's pretty central idea to entertainment really. Tom Hanks gets a share of the gross for his films, because he's Tom Hanks. Imagine "Saving Private Ryan" with the 35-year-old drama teacher from your small town high school. 

The league's proposal for a future CBA treats players far more like just regular employees, albeit very well paid regular employees. In the end, if you focus on just the dollars bing paid out, as the NFL is now suggesting, it really doesn't make much difference. Cash is cash, right? Indeed it is, but this paradigm shift of the players' role in the business around the sport might still be pretty tough for the union to swallow for the precedent it sets. Wages can be cut easier. Owners are banking on the majority of players to see this as an argument about salary levels and hope that they will start pressing to get a deal done. 

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