The 1980s will be a decade of increased friction between professional athletes and club owners, with more players electing the John Riggins option of walking away from their teams in disputes over money, Washington area business leaders were told yesterday.
Former Redskin quarterback Sonny Jurgensen and Donald Dell, former captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team and a lawyer for professional athletes told the businessmen that vast and increasing amounts of money generated by professional sports will lead to increasingly bitter disputes over how the pot is divided.
With the advent of cable television, predicted Jurgensen, individual clubs' share of TV receipts alone will rise to as much as $10 million a year. But that will only serve to fuel player demands for more money, he said.
"You're going to see more and more players walking out of camp. They will be walking out because they want their share of that $10 million. You're going to see more of this during the 1980s," said Jurgensen.
"I hope management and the players and the owners can get together on this because it's bad for all professional sports. The thing that happened with the Redskins and John Riggins walking out of camp because of a money dispute never should have happened."
Renegotiation, said Dell, "is no more than one person in an agreement saying he wants to change the agreement."
It is, he observed, a one-way street. There is no recorded instance of an athlete offering to negotiate a contract downwards after having had a poor season.
"It is a no-win situation for the owners," he said. "It is, heads I win; tails you lose."
As players see team revenues soaring from lucrative television contracts and other sources, Dell said, "they feel that since they are supplying the talent, they are entitled to a bigger piece.
"The owners feel that they are the ones who are taking the risks. As the pie gets bigger, everyone wants a bigger slice. But you begin to lose some of your incentive by the enormity of these salaries."
Other panelists at the Washington Board of Trade-sponsored forum entitled "Inside Washington Sports -- Today and Tomorrow," were Ben Brundred, general chairman of the Kemper Open golf tournament here; Abe Pollin, owner of the Washington Bullets and the Washington Capitals; Robert Sigholtz, general manager of the Stadium-Armory Complex, and Joseph H. Riley, president of the Greater Washington Sports Authority.
The D.C. Armory Board, said Sigholtz, is still actively seeking a major league baseball franchise for RFK Stadium, but there are no firm prospects. He would like to begin work by early next year, he said, on a 3,500-seat expansion at the stadium, including 52 luxury boxes that would rent for about $20,000 a year. Sigholtz said he has received several inquiries from businesses that said they would be interested in renting the boxes.
Brundred, who will serve a second stint this year as general manager of the Kemper Open at Congressional Country Club, said that in recent years golfers on the PGA Tour "have to be more than just sportsmen. They have to be entertainers as well."
Quoting one golf pro, who said his ambition was to play 18 holes without changing the expression on his face, Brundred observed, "I can't imagine who would want to see him play."
In particular, Brundred said, many of the younger players on the Pga Tour fail to meet minimal nonathletic standards. "Some of them should probably take Emily Post courses or literacy tests," he said. "Maybe IQ tests, too."