Enjoy the playoffs: The NFL lockout looms | VailDaily.com

Enjoy the playoffs: The NFL lockout looms

We’ve got three games left in the NFL season, and I hope you enjoy them.

The conference championship games this weekend and the Super Bowl on Feb. 6 are going to be the last professional football you’re going to be seeing for while, not counting college football, which would be another column.

The collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players is up March 3, and the owners will lock out the players on that date. And while it’s hard to get up in arms about millionaires facing off against billionaires, you’ve got to side with the players.

Ask yourself the question, “How can an NFL owner lose money?” The NFL is THE model for how a sport should be run. As much as baseball is America’s pastime, football is the country’s passion.

That’s because every one of the league’s 32 teams has a shot at winning the Super Bowl at the beginning of the season. (Laugh, if you will, at the NFC West this year, but the Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers were all in the hunt for a playoff spot until at least the second-to-last week of the season, and the Rams were a 1-15 team in 2009.)

The main factor behind parity is the league’s salary cap. No team can be like baseball’s New York Yankees in stockpiling talent, while teams such as the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans start the season knowing they have absolutely no chance.

The salary cap is also the reason why you have to be a moron of an owner to lose money. Each year, the cap is set at $1 million less than the TV revenues each team receives from the shared money from Fox, NBC, CBS and NBC. (In a related development, this allows small markets such as Green Bay and Pittsburgh to be playing in championship games this weekend against teams from Chicago and New York.)

Back to the point, every team is $1 million in the black before it sells a ticket, a beer, a parking space or a hot dog, not to mention any piece of merchandise. (The last is also shared, so that even though Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu’s No. 43 is 2010’s best-selling jersey, according to the NFL – Tim Tebow was third behind Drew Brees – the Detroit Lions get a cut of that, too.)

So let’s do some easy math. The average ticket price in the NFL was about $75. Let’s assumed that we fill Invesco Field at Mile High (capacity 76,125) 10 times. (It’s 10 games because season-ticket holders must buy preseason tickets at regular-season prices. And the NFL had only 26 games out of 256 regular-season games blacked out on TV, meaning not played in front of a capacity crowd.) Let’s say that only 50,000 of those fans buy one $8 beer and one $5 food item, which would be extremely conservative on the former, especially when you consider Raiders games and the general concept of one fan having more than one brewski. Then throw in 10,000 cars at $20 per vehicle for parking. (There are a lot more than 10,000 spaces in Denver, and some of them cost $30 per game.)

That’s $125 million in revenue after players’ salaries.

How the heck are owners eating through $125 million? And remember that $125 million doesn’t include merchandising.

The answer is they’re not. Some owners claim that the financing of new stadia is putting them in the red, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen included. The problem here is that most of these stadia are publicly financed. In the case of Invesco, 68 percent of the $364 million for the stadium came from taxpayers. Bowlen’s tab out of that would have been $116 million, or $9 million less than the Broncos easily clear from tickets and modest estimates of parking, beer and food sales in one year.

By the way, Bowlen, like a lot of his fellow owners, is well in the black just by owning the franchise. Bowlen purchased the Broncos for $78 million in 1984. Forbes now has the Broncos worth $1.08 billion. Don’t cry for Pat or his brethren. They’re fine.

But nonetheless, the NFL owners want more. That’s what this lockout on March 3 is about. They want more on top of the money they’re making, and they want it at the expense of the players, the ones who are truly putting themselves on the line both physically and financially.

As a lot of us know, it’s one thing to take a paycut when times are tough, as with the recession. You do so to keep your job. But why should the players take a cut when the NFL owners already have a system in place to make money hand over fist?

Despite the March 3 deadline, neither side has been moving much. The owners will wait out the players on this. One fun irony is that the NFL got it written into its TV deals that the league will still get TV money even if games aren’t played this fall. So the owners have no financial incentive to move.

The players hopefully have been saving up. Again, it’s hard to have sympathy for people who make more in one year than a lot of us do in a lifetime, but March 3 is big for the players. The owners plan to stop health care for the players, and even so-called healthy NFLers need a lot of health care.

The first full day of game is Sept. 11 – irony – and that’s when the players may start to cave – they don’t get their salaries until the regular season starts.

In the meantime, get ready for Oregon vs. LSU on Sept. 3 at Cowboys Stadium, which, by the by, included $325 million of public financing and another $125 million from those cash-straped NFL owners.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.

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