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PRO FOOTBALL POISED TO GROW

By       Message Sherwood Ross     Permalink
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Pro football will thrive and grow because it is based on a revenue-sharing model that strengthens all of its 32 teams simultaneously, says John "Jack" Mula, the noted players' representative. Going back to its earliest days, the executives who developed the sport "understood that in order for the league to survive, the weakest member had to survive so pro football has been built on a sharing foundation, one that said the league is only going to be as strong as its weakest member," he said.


Averting what might have been a disastrous lost NFL season required owners and players each to make concessions. Press photographs showed them embracing each other with relief after their pact was signed. In light of the agreement, which runs through the 2020 season, Mula's comments are particularly pertinent. He made them on a pre-recorded show to be aired at 11 A.M. this Sunday, July 31st, on the hour-long Comcast SportsNet broadcast "Educational Forum" produced by the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover(MSLAW). The show, titled, "The Business of Sports," will be hosted by Associate Dean Michael Coyne.


At the time of the signing, New England Patriots  owner Robert Kraft echoed the same point that Mula made earlier in the taping of " Educational Forum."  Apologizing to the fans on behalf of both sides, Kraft told the  AP,  "For the last five, six months we've been talking about the business of football and not what goes on on the field... (but) building the teams in each market. The end result is we've been able to have an agreement that I think is going to allow this sport to flourish over the next decade."

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In a separate interview, Mula told Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com that the owners were concerned over team expenses "increasing at a rate higher than revenues" and that these would "eventually force owners into a position that no business owner desires." Where under the previous arrangement owners and players shared revenue 50-50, owners now do slightly better at 53 percent to 47 percent. The owners also won an important victory whereby the regular season is expanded from 16 to 18 games, producing more revenues. As a longer season inescapably means more injuries, players, the  AP  said, "won changes to offseason and in-season practice rules that should make the game safer." The deal also included unrestricted free agency for most players after four seasons. Currently, about 600 of the League's 1,500 players are free agents.


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Elaborating on the principle of sharing all revenue equally among the 32 clubs, Mula said it had its basis 50-60 years ago, "which is why the NFL is the Number One spectator sport, why the amount of money that's taken in by the NFL through TV dwarfs other sports leagues...I believe there's such an allegiance to (the) amount of teams is because teams like Green Bay couldn't survive in an economic environment that didn't have some form of revenue sharing... The NFL has built a strong foundation and that's been an economic model that allows even the small market teams to survive."


Behind the recent unrest was the attitude of owners who believe "we need to continue to grow the pie, and to do that we need investment dollars off the top to invest in stadiums, to expand internationally for our NFL network," Mula said. Their interests ran parallel to those of many players who were saying "grow the pie and more money comes to us, it's as simple as that." Other plays contend, however, that the money is not that important.


Mula pointed, though, to the steadily sliding costs of the Green Bay  Packers,  a franchise that earned $30 million a few years ago but only $9 million last year. "There's a trend there that isn't good for sustaining those small market teams. If your level of expenses keep rising at a faster level than your revenue, eventually there's going to be businesses that fail."


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Central to the profitability of the sport, Mula says, is the multi-purpose stadiums that hold high school football games, concerts, soccer matches, and perhaps in the future even tennis, boxing, and lacrosse games. "As a matter of fact, I think there's some outdoor hockey games that have taken place in football stadiums. So in and of themselves, they become destinations for more than football" and the surrounding areas benefit by having an athletic venue there... Any venue that brings tens of thousands of people in is going to certainly spur some economic development and success outside of it."


As players will be exposed to more injuries, Mula is unequivocal in his view that higher benefit levels are needed. Players get medical benefits for five years after they've hung up their uniforms for the last time, Mula says. "I don't know if you can name a whole lot of businesses that continue to cover you (that way). But even with that, can there be more done because some of the players suffer career-ending and debilitating injuries?" he asks. "The NFL has already instituted programs to achieve that." Mula goes on to say that while the benefits level is not all the the union would like it has led to private groups  as Gridiron Greats "that are looking out for some of the older veterans who don't qualify."

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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)
 

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