Get ready for one the worst years for parity in the NFL in 2010. Some would argue that parity has been on its way out since the Patriots went 16-0 in 2007 and the Lions went 0-16 the very next season. Those franchises are just aberrations though. The New England Patriots were somehow able to convince aging players to take a pay cut in exchange for a very real chance for a Super Bowl ring and the Detroit Lions are just a franchise with a terrible front office year after year. The real attack on parity is behind closed doors being decided by the players union, owners, and Roger Goodell.
The first element of the perfect storm is the recent announcement that the stadium-based revenue-sharing program is in its last year. This does not mean that all revenue-sharing has been abolished. The television moneys will still be distributed among the franchises. The stadium-revenue sharing accounts for just $100 million that is taken from the top 15 teams and give to the bottom 12. This is a small amount, but helped to maintain the opportunity by keeping the balance line for teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Oakland Raiders from falling into the red.
The second element of this storm is the fact that unless some sort of an agreement reached soon, as Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports, there will be no salary cap for the 2010 season. This means that teams willing to burn through money faster than the Yankees will be free to load their rosters for at least one season.
This second element also introduces an overlooked caveat. There will be no team minimum salary cap. Currently a team must spend a certain amount. This forces teams to stay competitive by nature of demanding that they find talent to sign. Without this guarantee the more fiscally conservative teams in the league might just unload their rosters and try and field a team worthy of playing in Canadian Football League.
In Gary Peterson’s Mercury News column covering the same news he mentions a few teams that might just pilfer their operating budget. The most likely team to buy its pro bowl team that he mentions has to be the Dallas Cowboys.
Owner Jerry Jones freely overspent on the new Cowboys Stadium (yes he received a great deal of financial help from the city of Arlington and the NFL kicked in $150 million, but he still spent a boat load of money on the Death Star). He has the money to spend and is so obsessed with his team he puts Mark Cuban to shame. He has run coaches off the field by his very presence on the sidelines. This man wants to win a Super Bowl at whatever cost.
Other teams he mentions I am not so sure about. He may have overextended the notion that the teams are able to overspend with a willingness to overspend. Being from Chicago, I have to say that the inclusion of the Bears in the same sentence with the Cowboys is ridiculous.
The Chicago Bears may have overspent to keep Brian Urlacher, but that had to be a public relations move. The front office could not “betray” the face of the franchise. Bears fans know the McCaskey’s are cheap and have been sullying the franchise since the original owner and architect George Halas passed in 1983. This front office would rather pocket the money they are saving than say, bring in a big play receiver or sign a decent left tackle to make Cutler the quarterback he could be.
There are a few teams that would over spend though, and that would decimate the parity established over the last decade or so by financial constraints. My fear is that there are far more teams whose owners would rather put together an inferior team to save money. The best future would most likely have most of the teams active in the offseason, but acting as if the salary cap restrictions will return in 2011. Sadly, this is not the last paragraph of this little commentary.
The effect of this attack on parity would do more than just sap the competitiveness of the average league game. An ownership suddenly looking for a little more financial cover could choose to raise the cost of NFL tickets.
This could be done for teams near the red right now or once a team brings in a star to turn things around. Every year tickets prices go up anyway, but suddenly team owners (who are notoriously cheap and hate taking chances with money) might justify an increase with price by blaming the fans desire to actually have a winning team. Then when the team bombs the fans stop coming and a terrible cycle of blame begins.
To me parity, or at least some semblance of financial parity, is what made the NFL so successful in this last decade. While the NBA, NHL, and MLB continue to struggle with finances the NFL has made money with regards to operating and fielding a team, much less of an issue. A league as concerned and conflicted by financial agreements as it is about the championship (the ultimate final product of that league) is one that risks alienating fans.