I was born without a sense of smell, but, boy, did that stink.Green Bay fans, as noxious as you are -really, do you have to wear the foam-cheese hats - you have my sympathies.The referee who indicated touchdown on the final play of Monday night's Packers-Seahawks game had four years of Division III experience before this season. To put this in perspective, I have four years of D-III experience - OK, it was journalism - and I couldn't ref a high school game.We won't go into how the NFL replacement refs can't handle the speed of pro football, much less know the rules or how the first three weeks of the season just haven't seen consistent calls, leading to a lack of flow in games.The eye-popper of a statistic is that the NFL and its regular refs are $3 million apart on a pension plan. Nicely rounded, we're talking $100,000 per team.Really?The NFL, the model of all sports business, which takes in billions of dollars per year, is haggling over $3 million.With a deal reportedly imminent to return the regular refs, there's a bigger issue, which is that pro sports leagues are taking advantage of the current economic downturn to fill their coffers, and a lot of fans are going along with it, and I don't understand why.The NFL started it with last year's lockout, claiming it was losing money. This is border-line laughable. The salary cap is set a $1 million below each team's yearly TV share. NFL teams also split merchandising revenue. A Broncos or Jets Tebow jersey sends money to 30 other teams.In 2010, the NFL took in $2.7 billion, according to CNBC, on jerseys, hats and other gear. If the NFL only made a 33 percent profit on that figure, which is absurdly low, that's another $27.8 million per team per year.So even theoretically-poor teams, like the Jacksonville Jaguars are have banked a $28.8 million profit before selling a ticket, a beer or a parking space, not to mention higher ticket items like a luxury box.NFL owners claimed they lost money building stadiums. Nope. The only privately financed stadium in the last 50 years is AT&T Park, the baseball home of the San Francisco Giants. Every new NFL palace has been built with public money.Even the heads of Enron couldn't lose money owning an NFL franchise, but the league still got its players to take a pay cut from 60 percent of revenue to 47 percent.The NBA came next last winter with players seeing their share of basketball related revenue going from 60 to 51 percent. This NBA claimed poverty, despite arenas being, on average, 90 percent full, and increasing TV revenue from ABC/ESPN and TNT.The NBA wanted a hard salary cap, and, by and large, got it. The NHL already had it. The hockey owners shut down the entire 2004-05 season to get it. The average NHL salary was $1.8 million before it. It went to $1.3 million after. The figure is now $2.4 million.The NHL has its financial house in order to the point that Winnipeg, a casualty of pre-2004-05 lockout salaries, has a team again. Quebec, City, whose Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche because of the same situation, is often mentioned as a future NHL city again. The NHL has seen its TV revenue grow with the NBC Sports Network and CBC. Its owners were handing out huge deals to free agents this summer even as a lockout was eminent. And the owners' first offer was players to going from taking 57 percent of hockey-related revenue to 43 percent. The settlement will be somewhere in between, but NHL players will be taking a cut.All three of these labor disputes seem OK with a lot of average fans, who have been either laid off, got their paycheck reduced or are working extra jobs to make ends meet. It's understandable. "The athletes are getting paid millions to play a game, while I'm out of work. Why shouldn't they take a cut?"The answer is that pro athletes are the best at what they do, and the best should be compensated as such in any profession.There are only so many people who can go over the middle like Calvin Johnson, go to the hoop like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James and do stickwork like Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin.What's more, no one's ever bought a ticket to see an sports owner do anything. Of course, owner, or any business person, should be able to get a return on their investment. Team owners do, and they get even more when they sell the team.If you were the best in your field, you'd want to compensated as much as possible. Why not for someone else? Shadenfraude offers temporary pleasure, but isn't the solution.Thank about that when you watch the NFL this Sunday and Monday, especially when the old refs are back out there.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.
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