We’re now 104 days into the NFL lockout, and both sides are patting themselves on the back for finally negotiating for two or three days a week instead of pursuing mutually assured destruction for seven days a week. Meanwhile, the NBA is about to plunge into its own work stoppage if an agreement isn’t reached by Thursday, despite the fact that the league is on a popular upswing: The Dallas-Miami finals were the second-most watched since 2004. In both cases, owners and players alike remain seemingly insensible to a central fact: The revenue they’re fighting over is actually other people’s money.
Make no mistake about the true nature of these labor disagreements: They aren’t classic employer-worker arguments. They are disputes between oligarchs and independent contractors, and they aren’t so much about fair compensation as they are about how to shift the responsibility for out-of-control spending to someone else. Somehow, despite $4 billion in revenue, 22 of 30 NBA teams supposedly lost money last season. Somehow, despite $9 billion in revenue, and massive tax breaks and public assistance, NFL owners claim to be in a fiscal crisis. The reason for this is simple: reckless spending, huge gambles on new stadiums, and stupidly rich player contracts awarded by owners whose egos override their good sense.
Eventually, there will be compromise and concessions and everyone will return to work. There is one party, however, who won’t be receiving any concessions: the ticket buyer.
Here is the fan cost index for the four major sports leagues, meaning the average cost for a family of four to attend a game. For the NFL it’s $420.54, for the NBA it’s $287.85, for Major League Baseball it’s $197.36, and for the NHL it’s $313.68.
Now consider another number: In 2009, the median household income in this country was $49,777.
This tells us something. What it tells us is that the leagues do not care about the average fan. They do not care about your condition, your preferences, your wishes, or your hardships. They care about mercilessly squeezing you, to offset their own profligacy, and they take it for granted that you will sacrifice the family vacation in order to help with the gas bills for their yachts. Eighteen NFL teams raised ticket prices, despite the lockout.