Thursday, October 10, 2013

And where a talk show host returns to that tired old saw of the NFL and income redistribution

Here's Bill Maher explaining why football is superior to baseball and is generally the most excellent thing ever because of socialism or something.

(please advance to the 1:55 mark to get pass the creepy-ass misogynist's potty mouth but where you will still get to hear a gay slur.)

We're not economists nor statisticians but were not quite sure that making your case for "sharing the wealth" can be made pointing to a model that consists of a mere 32 entities. The NFL operates in a highly controlled environment where all 32 franchises are engaged in the exact same business. To compare the NFL to a complex, diverse and varied economy consisting of hundreds of millions of people is to compare apples to oranges.

Besides, how else would you split revenue from a national television contract except equally among all 32 teams? Baseball is completely different in that the majority of the TV revenue generated is on a regional basis as teams are allowed to go out and cut their own deals. Again apples and orange.

Likening the NFL's revenue sharing model to socialism is similar to comparing Saudi Arabia to socialism. Sure the Saudi citizens receive generous social services and straight cash payments but it's all because of one thing: raping Mother Gaia similar to how the NFL has cleverly manipulated and exploited a gullible public. Yep. Socialism did not make the NFL the monster that it is today - it was shrewd marketing, promoting the "brand" and exploiting a blood-thirsty American public on the violence of professional football. Oh, that and NFL owners extorting this national passion for football in the form of getting the public to pay for their team's personal revenue deluge: publicly-financed stadiums. That's not spreading the wealth, that's being a robber-baron through the ballot box.

Fact: virtually all revenue generated at and by the stadium belongs solely to the ownership group of that team. We're talking parking, concessions, food and beverage and of course ticket sales, personal seat licenses and the biggie, the luxury box fees. The owners get to keep all that jack. They don't have to share any of that.

You know what else is more important to the NFL's success than this silly notion of revenue sharing? Anti-trust exemption. That's right. There's no competition for the NFL now is there? There's no Sports Clips to Super Cuts in the retail chain hair-cutting business. The NFL can pretty much run their business operation any damn way they see fit without fear of reprisal, recrimination or... competition. They have cornered the market on professional football and everyone is completely OK with this dominant monopoly. Again, we'd obviously be more willing to split up a fraction of all that jack we were rolling in if we knew the fix was in. Do you think Bill Maher would be willing to pool and split equally his salary with 31 other comedians or talk show hosts? We'd certainly be willing to pool our salary with that of Bill Maher. Think he'd be down for that? No, he probably wouldn't.

"The frozen tundra of Lambeau Field"* is not socialism. It's an iconic phrase in the American lexicon because former commissioner Pete Rozelle had the foresight to put Ed Sabol and his fledgling Jersey-based film production outfit (NFL Films) at the tip of the league's marketing spear. If you are over the age 40, a big reason why you love the NFL is precisely because NFL Films made the game and its players seem larger than life. If you love football, you drift off to sleep at night picturing close-up shots of tight spirals in slow-motion spinning through an Autumn Sunday afternoon or breath vapor coming from players on the bench on a frigid December game day, images provided courtesy NFL Films. This is not socialism. This is shrewd marketing that has established and promoted an image with such a broad swath of the American public, it is now firmly entrenched as Culture in America. This is infinitely more important than how the NFL splits up its T.V. revenue.

Maher would have you believe that this wealth redistribution model has led to a veritable free-for-all every-body-has-a-shot-at-the-Super Bowl scenario in the NFL. The facts tell a different story. Over the past dozen years or so, the AFC play-off picture has been dominated by four teams: the Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. And do you know why those teams have been consistently good to great over the years? Hint: it's not because of how the NFL splits its television revenue. It's because those 4 franchises have had stable leadership at the top that has made sound personnel decisions plus good to great play at the quarterback position. That's the formula for success in today's NFL: smart management and a franchise quarterback. (The NFC is a bit more of a mixed bag but the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants have mirrored their AFC counterparts as how to operate your NFL franchise.

For all this talk of parity, franchises like Jacksonville, Cleveland and Buffalo don't have an ice cube's chance in hell of making it to the Super Bowl. It isn't a revenue thing - it's a management thing. (Cleveland has a real opportunity to make it to the playoffs this year. Perhaps not coincidentally, they had a complete front office overhaul in the off-season with a change in ownership which merely re-enforces the point we made above about having a management team that knows what the hell they are doing).

To wit, you just can't throw money at free agency and expect your football team to click. Baseball is different. You can get away with cobbling together a roster of All-Stars and expect to win. The Philadelphia Eagles and their "dream team" experiment of last year is proof of football being an entirely different animal from baseball. As baseball is an ensemble of individual performances, chemistry and teamwork are decidedly more important to football than they are to baseball.

One of our favorite quotes of all time came from the former and recently deceased Baltimore Oriole manager, Earl Weaver, when he was asked about team chemistry. Weaver waived off the notion with, "Team chemistry? Team chemistry is a 3-run homer".

Back in June, Don Mattingly, the L.A. Dodger manager was in danger of losing his job. Enter Yasiel Puig who has become the most physically explosive player in the game and Hanley Ramirez coming off the DL and say hello to an ensuing 50-8 record and a play-off berth. Don Mattingly is still no coaching genius. Yasiel Puig's seeming aloofness can, in our mind, be simply chalked up to the fact that his English is extremely poor. That's right: perhaps the Dodgers' best player cannot even talk to a majority of his teammates. How's that for chemistry? And let's not forget the fact that last year's massive mid-season trade between the Dodgers and the Red Sox was beneficial to both teams.

Take in that paragraph above and give us a comparable scenario in the NFL. You can't. To try to compare baseball and football in terms of how money is spent and player personnel decisions proves you know nothing about either baseball or football.

Is the revenue sharing of the T.V. contracts an element of the NFL's parity and overall success. Sure. It's an element. Just that but it is in no way close to being as important as Maher wants to make it and who is using the NFL to try to make an over-arching point about income re-distribution in America and failing miserably while doing it.

Stick to making gross, sexist cracks about conservative women, Maher. It suits you better.

Side note: the screed about keeping kids out of crappy schools was rich. Conservatives and libertarians have been at the forefront of school reform: charter schools, school choice, some... any degree of teacher accountability - a laundry list of ideas to break from the obviously failed status quo. These reform efforts have been opposed at every turn by an unholy alliance of teacher unions and big city Democratic pols.

* Yes, we are aware John Fecenda never uttered these actual words which makes the marketing genius of the NFL that much more impressive.

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