Hope Springs Eternal as NFL Owners Talk Turkey

Goodell lays out revenue-sharing scheme in Chicago

Nothing is set in stone, but the 98-day NFL lockout appears to be going the way of the drop-kick field goal and the number 00.

In a meeting today in Chicago with NFL owners, commissioner Roger Goodell has laid bare the details of a proposed collective bargaining agreement that would allow the 2011-12 campaign to proceed on schedule. Tuesday’s sit-down marks the first time all 32 franchise owners have convened since the lockout began.

According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, the new CAB offers a simplified revenue-sharing formula, one that would see NFL players lay claim to 48 percent of all dollars taken in by the league. Under the previous agreement, players received 60 percent of all revenues, although that share did not include the $1 billion that owners have looked to reserve as an “expense credit.”

If the new plan is implemented, the players’ share would never dip below 46.5 percent of the total. All told, the NFL rakes in approximately $9.3 billion per season.

While other issues remain up in the air, should the owners sign off on the proposed terms, the new class of rookies is likely to take a hit. Mortensen said a new wage scale for first-year players is on the table, although there’s been little headway on that front.

Less certain is the status of the current 16-game regular-season schedule. Owners have agitated for an expanded 18-game slate, which would necessitate cutting the pregame schedule from four to two exhibitions. Players have voiced concerns that the increased workload would only increase the odds of suffering devastating injury.

A shorter preseason would also be detrimental to the rookies trying to make the cut. With fewer exhibition games, the incoming classes will have fewer opportunities to prove their mettle.

While a vote on a new pact by the owners isn’t necessarily imminent, and the players would then need to accept the offer, it’s well within the realm of possibility that an agreement could be reached in the coming weeks. Upon ratification, the new CAB should extend through the 2021-22 season.

NFL broadcast partners increasingly say that the season will kick off without a hitch. Many TV executives say the NFL is understandably looking to honor the opening weekend schedule, which includes a New York Giants-Washington Redskins meeting on the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.

In a worst-case scenario, the loss of the NFL will wipe as much as $3 billion in ad revenue off the books at Fox, NBC, CBS, and ESPN. Fox has the most skin in the game, generating more than $975 million in ad dollars with its Sunday NFC package. According to industry estimates, NBC hauls in some $850 million with its prime-time Sunday Night Football showcase while CBS’ AFC coverage churns up around $825 million. 

Under terms of its $1.1 billion rights deal, ESPN’s Monday Night Football carries the lightest spot load, with ad sales adding up to around $175 million. (The ratings generated by MNF allow ESPN to charge cable and satellite TV operators the highest carriage fee in the business—$4.40 per sub per month. In comparison, TNT charges the second-highest affiliate fee at $1.03, per SNL Kagan estimates.)

DirecTV also stands to take a hit. The satellite giant’s NFL Sunday Ticket service generates as much as $700 million in annual subscription revenue.

And the suffering won’t be limited to the media outlets. Given an employee base of some 3,500 people per franchise, each city that plays host to an NFL team could stand to lose as much as $160 million in revenue.

If the news from Chicago is less than definitive, the fact that some hard numbers are being bandied about is a step in the right direction. In the meantime, both sides seem anxious to get a deal hammered out.

As he walked into the league meeting Tuesday, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay told reporters that he hoped a resolution would come in due course. “It just makes sense to continue to have a feeling of urgency and to work to try to get something done,” Irsay said. “That’s my hope, but these things are tough, they’re fragile. [We] have to keep working at it.”

Training camp is scheduled to open on July 21, exactly one month from today. The Hall of Fame Game exhibition, which marks the official start of preseason play, is set for August 7.