Friday, March 26, 2010

Who Runs the Game? --Television

The golden goose that is the NFL faces some very serious problems in the near future. The league's collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association expires in less than a year, and there is growing acrimony on both sides. There is the very real threat of a lockout or work stoppage after the 2010 season.

As you might guess, television is right in the middle of the argument. The players are upset that the networks have essentially guaranteed payments to the NFL (in the form of a loan), even if there are no games to show. So if there is a work stoppage, NFL teams will make their customary $100 million per team in TV rights fees, while the players get nothing.

The players have reacted angrily and threatened not to take part in the interviews and production meetings with network announcers before games. "Is is possible that a number of players will not do business as usual with the networks?" said NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith. "Absolutely." The players argument is that they give their time to the networks to do these pre-game interviews and get nothing in return for it.

Paid to do interviews? That's a very dangerous road to take. It's hard enough to justify paying millionaires more money, but checkbook journalism in any form sends a very bad signal. What's next? Paying for post-game interviews? Press conferences?

The underlying issue here is "Who runs the game?," the players or the owners. The owners would argue that they write the checks that build the stadiums and pay the players; the players would say that without them, there is no product to put on the field. Network TV money has traditionally tipped the balance of power in the owners' favor. Now the players want some of the action. The tug-of-war over network money may go a long way in determining what happens to the golden goose in 2011.


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