Mark your calendar: October 17, 2017, “The Death of the NFL.”
The Wake happened in Manhattan yesterday as NFL Players Association team player reps and executives of the NFL met to discuss all things related to the current NFL players “Anthem Protests.” Fear dominated that meeting and will at today’s meeting. Why? Players know they hold the “Trump card” (no pun intended) because of one thing and one thing only: NFL football games do not happen without players. It’s that simple. Fear? The NFL front office and NFL team owners are scared to death. It is doubtful the “S” word was mentioned out loud at yesterday’s meeting, but it was certainly in the air. That “S” word: “Strike.”
“Go ahead and strike,” is the thought of millions of NFL fans. To be honest, the impact to the nation of an NFL strike has been dramatically reduced by the reality of the game’s impact on American life since the “Anthem Protests” began. To working-class Americans, as much as NFL football has become entrenched in their thinking, these protests proved to these fans that the game is really just a game. Doing without games in the scheme of normal American life is no big deal. Losing a family member, friend, or a job are big deals. NFL owners understand that…and are afraid. NFL players do not realize that….yet. But they will. When they do, they too will be afraid.
NFL Owners’ Fear
The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires at the end of the 2021 NFL draft. Negotiations for this CBA took long and were at best contentious. No doubt the NFL has been a cash cow for all involved.
So what’s the beef about? It begins with NFL owners and teams: without players, games don’t get played. Without games, there are no ticket revenues. (unplayed games means season ticket refunds or credits and then no walk-up sales) Without games there are no television or radio broadcasts. Without broadcast there is no $1 Billion rights fee paid to the NFL by CBS, NBC, and FOX for broadcasts, and no $1.5 Billion paid by DirecTV for NFL Sunday Ticket broadcast rights. Killing the dollars the NFL generates is literally killing the golden goose.
NFL owners understand better now than ever before: players have that trump card. Owners don’t want that card to be played. They remember the horrors of 1987, perhaps the darkest year in NFL history. The Union went on strike after two games. The owners signed replacement players and, after missing one week, staged three games. During that time, dozens of veterans crossed the picket lines and rejoined their teams, including such future Hall of Famers as Joe Montana, Lawrence Taylor, Steve Largent and Tony Dorsett. After 24 days, the fractured union voted to end the strike despite no new agreement. A 15-game season was played.
NFL Players’ Position
“Show me the Money!” Very few can argue that the pivotal role played in the NFL that is indispensable is that of the player. But, through the years through multiple contract negotiations, strikes, work stoppages and court cases, NFL players are doing really well financially. Each team has a salary cap — the maximum they can pay to all players combined during a year. The 2017 cap is $167 million, representing a nearly 40 percent rise over five years. The average a NFL player makes is $3,150,943 a season, paid in 16 checks: one after each regular season game. Any way you count it, that’s a bunch of dough!
But, money is NOT the issue of concern for the “Anthem Protests.” Colin Kaepernick — former San Francisco 49er quarterback who started these protests a season ago — said this after his first game protest: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Soon other players joined in. The “Anthem Protest” escalated after statements from the President responding to the 2017 protests that — in the opinion of many NFL players — demeaned them professionally and personally. The Seattle Seahawks as a team issued this as the reason for their protesting: “We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny out most basic freedoms.” The common thread in comments made by many other players is that of systemic racism against people of color, police brutality, and racial inequality.
I could spend quite a bit of space responding to these, but there’s really no point. I’ll point out one thing, though: in any conversation about any issues, IF the objective is to reach any type of resolution, parties to that conversation must be committed to converse about the issues and discuss resolution options. Unless and until that happens, there will NEVER be any resolution. There may be some specific objective NFL players’ desire from the “Anthem Protests,” but I have not heard or seen any specific goal they wish to achieve.
What specifically do NFL players want from their “Anthem Protests?”
NFL Fans, Sponsors, and Marketing Partners
Owners fear and players anger, however, are NOT the proverbial nail in the coffin of the NFL. There’s more.
There’s the money! This is the nail. Yes, the game starts on the field. But to turn that game into money requires the continued desire on the part of fans, sponsors, and marketing partners to pay to be a part of that game. All of those have particular reasons to want to be in the game. When those reasons are invalidated, they’re gone — as is their money.
The NFL death spiral began with Kaepernick’s first “Anthem Protest” last year in pre-season and few noticed. It kicked into high gear 5 games ago and everyone noticed. The NFL is finding itself just 5 games into the 2017 season close to assuming “room temperature,” which only happens when you die.
Many NFL fans decided weeks ago to not watch Sunday games, not wanting to see the protests because the protests angered them. Even tens of thousand season ticket holders chose to avoid stadiums for the same reason. Surprise, surprise: fans discovered missing NFL games on television or in person is not so bad! There are real benefits from spending one-on-one time Sunday afternoon with the wife and kids. They found out there are a bunch of things that can be done with those hundreds of dollars they had been spending every weekend paying for parking, hot dogs, popcorn, replica jerseys and caps, and a beer or two at the games. Oh sure they tune in to a favorite team game every once in a while. But this season is has not been so much the all day Sunday, Sunday evening and Monday evening, and Thursday night NFL game concentration.
The fans have cooled on the NFL. That means fewer tickets for games. Attendance at games has plummeted. Television ratings have tanked as well. Sponsors and marketing partners spend their money for exposure to potential customers. Far fewer fans in stadium seats, in replica jerseys and caps, watching television games, means far fewer trying their goods and services. So they stop spending money with the NFL.
That’s the daisy chain that sent the NFL to the cemetery. While there are still games and will be games, the cash cow the NFL had been for so long died yesterday. The funny thing is: NFL players haven’t even noticed yet.
Oh well. Don’t be sad. The Baseball World Series is about here and the NBA regular season has started. Alabama is still undefeated and the PGA Tour in Maui is not to far ahead. The NFL has died, but there are still a lot of sports left……for now.