As much as the NFL owners are portrayed as a fraternity of like-minded, chummy associates, when it comes to money, their relationship is about business. That was very apparent in the final day of the meeting/negotiating session in Dallas as the owners were trying to hash out revenue sharing among themselves and a deal with the players union.
At one point over the two-day session, Jim Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts said, “We need the ghost of Wellington Mara to appear.” Mara, the long time owner of the New York Giants who died last year, is generally credited with giving the NFL life when he agreed to revenue sharing with the other owners instead of piling up the big bucks as an owner in the largest market in America.
Because of the worth of the teams, more than half of the owners have bought their clubs in the last 15 years. That means they don’t know anything about the labor problems of the league in the ‘80’s or the competition they faced from the AFL in the ‘60’s, followed by the USFL two decades later. The Raiders Al Davis was convinced that a rival league would have spawned had the NFL not made a deal with the players. “It would have been out there,” Davis said after the proposal was approved 30-2. “A ten team league would have been easy to put together to rival ours. It would have been anarchy. I know, I’ve lived it.”
Apparently a blending of a couple ideas was approved by the ownership with the top 15 high revenue teams contributing money to a pool that would be distributed over the other 17 teams in the league. “There are a lot of people giving a lot of money away,” is how Pittsburgh’s Dan Rooney characterized it. It was a true compromise with plenty of give and take.
Guys like Jerry Jones of Dallas and Daniel Snyder of Washington got on board, accepting the idea that some money made in the future because of the size of their market could be shared for the good of the league. “We got moving,” Jones said, “when some of the smaller revenue teams realized that some of the concerns they had just weren’t going to be addressed.”
Wouldn’t you like to have been a fly on the wall in that meeting when Jones, Snyder and some of the other big market guys just stood up and told those other owners that what they wanted just wasn’t going to happen? When was the last time anybody told an NFL owner no about anything? It’s the bazillionaires telling the skillionaires that they can’t have what they want.
It is a deal that keeps the league going in the direction it’s going: up. Even though they’re in business together, what’s a few million among friends?