Editorial: NFL: Keep what has worked

Published 8:49 am Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The National Football League has the most popularity and largest market share of all big-time spectator sports, beating out baseball, auto racing, college football, fighting, hockey, basketball, golf, you name it.

A main reason for the success is the fairness the NFL has among teams thanks to revenue sharing, salary caps and methods of spreading the talent around the league. No matter your team, each year they have an equal shot at success as long as the organization — from the owner and general manager down to the coaches and players — do their jobs well.

Contrast that with college football. They are playing pretty much the same sport with nearly the same rules. But some teams and some conferences get advantages, resulting in the same teams battling for the trophies. With so many teams in so many markets, imagine how popularity would climb if more fairness existed.

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Contrast the NFL with Major League Baseball. Pitcher Cliff Lee has menaced the New York Yankees for two years in a row. The solution? They want to sign him. The Yanks spend their way to success. In fact, look at the past decade and you’ll see major market teams make the pennant title games more often than small market teams. (Big markets are places like New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas.) It’s no fun for fans, so they tune out. No wonder baseball playoffs are just on cable. MLB players and owners can’t agree on salary caps or revenue sharing. The result is a lesser product.

And who could imagine a Miami Heat situation happening in the NFL? It must hurt NBA viewing when one team hordes so many top players. The player-grouping tendency in the NBA leaves about five teams worth watching. Everyone else is out of it already, which is no fun for the fans.

We bring all this up because NFL players and owners must work out a labor deal before next season. While it could be easy to see ways of getting big money from big markets, surely that sacrifices eyeballs watching TV sets in other places, which reduces revenue for all NFL teams. Take a strategy of “Every fan counts.”

We urge NFL players and owners to learn from the past. They did it right. Keep revenue sharing and salary caps. Keep spreading the talent around. Keep all fans interested.