Pro sports has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. The '60s saw television begin its domination of sports, so millions of dollars now flow to sports owners from this source. The '70s witnessed the emergence of the players' union through the bargaining process in part, but more dramatically through the courts.
Playes in the '60s were considered property. In the '70s they demanded dignity and freedom. While they have not totally achieved these goals, we are a long way from the days when owners and their commissioner could treat athletes as mere pawns on a chessboard, as chattel.
The '60s were dominated by commissioners handing down arbitrary punishment with no concern for due process. Paul Hornung, Alex Karras and Joe Namath were disciplined by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle over gambling connections.
But in the '70s a labor arbitrator -- Peter Seitz -- not Rozelle, made the news.
So we have emerged from the Dark Ages. It took an NFLPA strike in 1972, the NFLPA no-freedom no-football strike of 1974, and Kapp, Mackey and Yazoo Smith cases of '75, '76 and '77 (concerning NFL player contracts, the Rozell reserve clause and the draft). And there was Seitz' decision in the Andy Messer-simth -Dave McNally case (the landmark case establishing baseball free-agentry).
The deed was done. Athletes are now treated with respect by most managements. This is not to say that the battle is over. It is to say that it will be a different fight in the '80s than it was in the '70s.
The fight, as I see it, will be for a higher percentage of the gross revenues going to the athletes and, in team sports, a more sensible distribution of that money among all members of the team.
First, a note about the current economics of the NFL. Each team had revenues of approximately $12.7 million last year -- $5.8 million from television, $250,000 from preseason TV and radio, $5.7 million from the gate and nearly $1 million from Pro magazine, parking and concessions. Each team paid plid players $3.3 million and spent another $2.5 million or $3 million on stadium rental, equipment, road trips, pension, insurance, coaches and front office. Each team's net, before-tax profit was between $6 and $7 million.
To put it another way, all salaries for players, coaches, trainers and front-office personnel, and stadium-rental and insurance costs are paid for out of television revenues. Every fan who enters RFK to see the Redsking represents sheer prfit to Edward Bennett Williams and Jack Kent Cooke. If ticket prices go up, it is only because those two men want a bigger profit, not because players are getting more.
The players are getting less. Not less in absolute dollars because the average salary is now $62,000, which is a 4 percent inflation- adjusted increase over 1977. The players today get about 25 percent of gross revenues. In 1974, they got almost 45 percent of gross revenues. Why the decline? Because the TV revenues more than doubled -- from $2.3 million to $5.8 million per club -- and because players are in a poor bargaining position because there are always plenty of rookies available to take their places. Today, the average team replaces 12 vets per year with rookies. Why have teachers' salaries always been low? Wame reason.
The question facing the NFLPA at its 1979 convention is: "How can athletes get a fair share of the tremendous increase in gross revenues?" The answer may be collective bargaining for wages; a sort of "gross-sharing" scheme wherein a guaranteed percentage of grpwth would go to those who make the game possible -- the athletes.
The implementation of such a plan will not come easy. The only way for us to achieve significant new gains will be to combine with other sports unions. Just as the days are gone when a commissioner can be named arbritrator, so are the days when a few hundred athletes, standing alone, can successfully tackle powerful monopolies like the NFL, North American Soccer League, major league baseball of the National Hockey League.
The '80s should be even more fun than the '70s.