I attended the first meeting for football agents convened by the reconstituted NFLPA last week. After listening to the union version of events, and looking at the compensation numbers that came out of the first draft and free agent signings, it's reasonably clear that the extremely vocal critics of the deal signed between the NFLPA and the National Football League don't know what they are talking about.
I've always assumed that the union people knew exactly what they were doing when they settled the Brady litigation and the NFL agreed to end the owner lockout. Whether it was the decertification, or the realization that some real money was about to go away, the end result reflects a fairly thoughtful assessment of revenue sources, incentives for desirable behavior, economic trade offs for "quality of life" work conditions and appreciation of just how important (and lucrative) football has become in the American cultural landscape.
I won't try to recreate the full presentation here, but want to focus on a couple of major points that demonstrate pretty clearly the kind of detailed thought process that took place on both sides of the contract football.
For example, the players relinquished a claim to approximately 60% of "Total Revenue" reported by the NFL--a number subject to heavy discounting for expenses--in exchange for a lower percentage of the more all-inclusive "All Revenue". What's noteworthy about this All Revenue figure is that it is not discounted so heavily for expenses, and has a sliding scale of player entitlement, based on the level of effort expended by the clubs in earning the dollars. So, for example, players share in 55% of the media revenue, which represents very little effort by the clubs and their organizations. On the other hand, the local club revenue stream, arising from ticket sales and club specific activities, provides only 40% of its revenue to the players. This rewards clubs willing to make the extra effort to market locally, and generate more revenue off things like naming rights. Overall, the players are effectively guaranteed an average of 47% of the All Revenue number generated by league activities. If that seems like a low percentage, consider the projection that TV revenue alone should make up any total dollar shortfall--a prediction that is already being borne out in the latest ESPN contract.
In addition, the union gets out of the revenue sharing business with the league in exchange for locked-in cash spending requirements. The minimum each team can spend in cash expenditures on player compensation is 89% of the total salary cap number set by the league and union each year. This has the affect of significantly increasing the spending by certain cheapskate clubs. Teams that don't spend that money on their own players will be forced to contribute it directly to the union, which will then have the discretion to distribute these shortfalls in spending. If there's a better incentive for owners to put the dollars out, I can't think of it.
But most notable for the players, and probably most important in the long term, are the limitations on practice time and intensity that were negotiated as part of this economic package. Players had serious and legitimate concerns about overtraining throughout the football year. Off-season workouts are now limited not only in duration, but in type of activity, with only 10 authorized OTAs (organized training activities) which involve full speed work (and only limited hitting) on the both offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The collective bargaining agreement also limits the number of so-called padded practices, where players engage in full-speed or near full-speed hitting, to a total of 14 over the course of the regular season. Preseason practices are limited to 1 padded practice per day, and a total of 4 hours of practice time, only 3 of which can be in full pads.
There are a number of other concessions made by clubs on training in exchange for compensation issues by the union. But both sides realized how much money the game was capable of making and how totally damaging a strike/lockout that cost regular season games would be. In fact, both sides appear to be absolutely correct in their perceptions - NFL games were on top of the ratings for television programs in the first several weeks of the season. And remember, these are not even playoff games. It's a testament to the quality of the product, and the intelligence of the people handling the negotiations, that led to an agreement that seems rational and maintains the momentum of one of the greatest spectator sports in the country.