NFL Owners Want More Money — From Each Other

In the past weeks and months, we've heard from numerous players about the pending lockout. They've all been on message, like good union members ought to be. But we've heard very little from the owners, who have been content to let the Commissioner and the lawyers give the public statements. This might be PR strategy, or it might shed light on the fact that the owners aren't all in complete agreement on what ought to be in a new CBA.

The notion was raised by, of all people, Baltimore's Derrick Mason. In an interview on local radio, he had this to say:

I think all the owners are not on the same page here. You've got to understand, the Jerry Joneses of the world feel they should be making more because they're bringing in more bucks. But then there's some other owners that aren't bringing in a whole lot because of where they are geographically that probably say you know what, I like the current system because we all get to share the money. So I don't think they're all on the same page.

The stumbling block? Money, of course. It's no secret that the owners are unhappy with the expiring CBA, and are the ones pushing for changes. But one of the aspects that's guaranteed to change is the alteration or complete elimination of the supplemental revenue sharing model that was put into place in 2006. It's not an enormous pool: in its final incarnation, nine lower-revenue teams received eight figures apiece. But it's on top of a much larger revenue sharing agreement (we're talking billions) that's unique in professional sports.

The gap between the haves and have-nots is slim in the NFL compared to other sports, where the majority of revenues often come from regional sports networks (the Mets, hemorrhaging money, made $120 million from SNY last season, and the network is valued higher than the team). In football, every game is national, every TV contract is worked out with the league rather than the teams, and is divided among them all. Even if Jacksonville never plays a Monday night game, they see the proceeds of ESPN's deal.

But even if that revenue gap is slim in comparison, it's there. And teams like the Cowboys or Steelers or Giants who can print their own money with PSLs and merchandising can't be too pleased with having to subsidize the Jaguars. So not only will the owners have to come to an agreement on how much to share with the players (and they're reportedly $750 million apart), but they'll have to decide how much to share with each other. That's not a gimme, and could color the negotiations and final CBA language.

Therein lies the true talent of David Stern, and for that matter Bud Selig: getting 30-plus owners, with overlapping yet distinct goals, to speak as one. It's something Roger Goodell hasn't quite mastered, and it remains to be seen if that fracture plays a role in a labor war that's supposed to be about solidarity.