Even if it sometimes feels like we’ve already hit peak NFL, the league’s biggest source of revenue is guaranteed and ever-increasing. And those national television deals are so massive, that it’s just about impossible for an owner not to turn huge profits, no matter how often they cry poverty—$244 million goes to each and every NFL team, just for being on TV.
Our only window, smudged as it is, into the NFL’s books comes from the financial disclosures required of the publicly owned Green Bay Packers. Those disclosures for the fiscal year ending March 31 were released yesterday, and they’re rosy for the Packers and for the league.
The Packers received $244 million as their equal share of the NFL’s national revenue, most of which comes from TV contracts but which also includes road-game revenue sharing. Multiply that by the 32 teams, and that means NFL disbursed $7.8 billion in national revenue—a 9.6 percent increase from the previous year.
The Packers also disclosed an additional $197.4 million in local revenue—that’s what they pulled in on their own last year, between ticket sales, merchandising, and sponsorships—for a grand total of $441.4 million. The exact numbers for other teams’ local revenue isn’t available, but Paul Baniel, vice president of finance and administration, said the Packers are ninth in the league.
“We’re very fortunate that we’ve seen the kind of growth that we have, and I feel very confident that we’ll continue to see it, at least through the rest of this collective bargaining agreement,” Packers President Mark Murphy said on a conference call with reporters.
The current TV contracts run through the 2022 season, though in the past those deals have been signed a couple of years before the previous deals expire. So we’re coming up on it, and it feels like those negotiations will be a watershed moment for the future of the league. Not even ESPN has been able to escape the effects of cord-cutting, which is only going to increase. It’s always been presumed that live rights are immune, but that’s a multibillion-dollar bet, and the NFL owners have already started hedging theirs. Ten Thursday night games this year will be streamed by Amazon, which paid $50 million for the rights. It’s not hard to imagine a very near future in which every game is streamed, but the league and its partners must be desperately hoping to be able to monetize those to bring in anywhere near what broadcast rights currently go for. If the industry doesn’t figure that out, well, the NFL’s TV money hose is going to get choked off.
Right around the time of the next round of TV negotiations, the NFL will be working out a new CBA with the players’ union. The current CBA runs through 2020, and the players definitely feel like they got the short end of the stick last time. If the TV rights bubble looks like it’s going to pop or deflate, and the league has to consider limited austerity measures, those CBA negotiations are going to be ugly as the players try to get theirs before things go bad.
This is what Richard Sherman was talking about yesterday when he said the players need to be ready and willing to strike, even if it means losing some money in the short term to guarantee a more sustainable long-term system. But NFL careers are so short that many players can’t or don’t save up enough money to be able to get through a work stoppage, and that’s where the owners will always have the advantage: Revealed in the Packers’ financial disclosures is that Green Bay has $349 million just sitting there in reserve.