You've heard all the details. You've figured out the implications for free agents, the draft and the future of the league. But pundits these days come a dime a dozen, and the correlation between the reach of the platform and the quality of punditry is often, well, not that correlated. And so it was that from the Twitterverse, I came across this piece.
Now I want to stress this before I jump into the piece: this is a Rams blog. So please, please, please, please keep your politics out of this. It's not that useful, and they're not relevant. But your opinions are and your reactions to the piece certainly. Act like pros.
Disclaimer aside, the piece gets at the heart of the funding issue. I've told non-TSTers who ask me about the coming lockout that the owners face two issues that get to the heart of the matter: stadiums and revenue sharing. And this piece by S.M. Oliva shows why it's the core issue behind the CBA talks.
Oliva segregates the two forms of consumable product from the NFL:
The NFL is really two distinct products. There’s the in-stadium product represented by Jerry World and its taxpayer-financed brethren. And then there’s the way most people consume football, the television product produced by the major broadcast networks and ESPN.
That's close. The truth is that with modern sports, there two major forms of product use: in-person consumption and any other form. It's not just television, although that's certainly the behemoth running the show. It's also the internet, and given the recent DHS raid on sites like Channelsurfing and atdhe, it's obvious that more than just a few are paying attention to the rise of online consumption of sports. Again, Oliva hits it on the head:
...the real issue is that the NFL opposes any revenue stream it cannot directly control.
And that's the core issue here. The NFL is more than willing to take on the players to get a larger slice of the pie/cake/pizza/Pissaladière. They're hesitant, though, to take on each other or the fans themselves. Until the NFL reworks revenue sharing to limit the overreach of owners like Jerry Jones, Al Davis, Daniel Snyder, et al., the heart of the problem among the owners will just sit in the corner, waiting to threaten the stability of the league itself.
What should be a reasonable agreement between billionaire owners that allows for responsible stewardship as part of one of the best industries in the economically wretched last eight years, the NFL has instead mortgaged it's own stability on Texas excess - bigger, better, faster at all costs (and BTW, as a Texan, I'm generally inclined to indulge in Texas excess). The labor dispute is, ultimately, secondary. Again, Oliva:
Well it’s simple really: The owners overspent on unnecessary stadiums, and now they want the players to work more for less pay to help pay down the debt. That’s your entire labor dispute in one sentence. The league expects — nay, demand — the NFLPA to act like a local government in a stadium dispute and simply give the franchise operators what they want for little or nothing in return.
And they'll win. Because they have the leverage. They have the stadiums, the contracts, the infrastructure and the logistics, and that's the end of it. So fast forward to the end of the 2011 season. The owners have an 18-game schedule, they've squeezed the balls of the NFLPA bull, and riding to new fiscal heights in the NFL rodeo. Great. As fans, we won't care about the details as long as there's football. But the viability of the NFL in providing the level of product we expect (i.e. the best players on competitive teams in a balanced framework) is threatened by the foundation of revenue sharing that has yet to adjust to the inequalities of ownership. One last time from Oliva:
That’s not to say professional football will cease to exist, nor even that the present labor situation will yield some disaster beyond imagination. What I am saying is that all the positive, pie-in-the-sky press in the world can’t alter economic reality. The NFL isn’t just a house of cards. It’s a house of cards built atop a pile of toxic waste. The only thing keeping the house from sinking is a support structure composed of television contracts.
But the networks face their own economic challenges, and unless you can guarantee that Fox, ESPN, CBS, et al., will be stronger then they are now in 2031, then you can’t say with any confidence the NFL will survive and thrive indefinitely.
The league/owner cabal is uncomfortable with the internet because it tilts the economic scale toward the consumer. You and I can't go start up our own tv station nearly as easily as we can start our own Web site. And the ability to control, manipulate and develop content is, obviously, easier as well. Which means there's more of it and it's harder to monopolize across any given spectrum. For people who are used to bullying their way to the top (Snyder) or drowning competitors in capital (Jones), those options don't exist online.
Which means what? The NFL is likely to press into television contracts harder and harder despite increasing access and use online. The owners will get their television money in the case of a lockout. Way to go. We all know that more and more people will end up watching games online because, in the end, it's cheaper. Whether it's Channelsurfing or adthe (both of which are back online) or Veetle or SopCast or justin.tv or whatever conduit comes next, it's all cheaper than any other option unless you happen to live in the area where "your game" is being broadcast. That's where the owners lose. They can't control that level of access. They can't stop a guy in Britain tossing his Sky Sports feed onto the internet so that fans of two teams who don't live in those physical markets can watch the game.
But they can go bigger and more expensive in the two forms of product they put out: the stadiums that people enjoy in person, and the television contracts that feed them ridiculous amounts of cash. How does that affect the Rams? Simple. How often have we talked about the stadium issue? People are paying attention to Los Angeles' stadium development for good reason: it's playing the game by the rules of modern NFL ownership. You can only do so much before reaching the tipping point. As a fan of the Rams, and the NFL, I hope we haven't already passed it.