Why there will be football in 2011

By Mike Klis
Updated: August 29, 2010

DENVER — It’s easy to see where this is going.

There will be an NFL season in 2011, even if there’s a delayed start. And the reason there will be football in 2011 is there will be an 18-game season in 2012.

Along with giving Stan Kroenke permission to add his most prized possession yet — an NFL franchise — to his remarkable sports empire, the gathering of league’s owners Wednesday in Atlanta revealed not management’s preference for an 18-game season, for that has been known for some time.

The meeting of NFL pooh-bahs made clear their intention to use the 18-game schedule as the solution to the current labor impasse between the owners and the players’ union.

“If there’s an opportunity to increase rosters, that’s a good thing in today’s environment that we’re creating more jobs,” commissioner Roger Goodell said. “Not many unions can say that. That’s a positive. If we can create greater revenue, that means more compensation for the players. They will be the biggest beneficiary from that.”

Here’s how 18 games and a new CBA will merge: The owners want to reduce the players’ 59.5 percent slice of revenues. The players are against the idea. Thus, the CBA stalemate.

The owners also want to shift the 20-game format from the current four preseason-16 regular season games to two and 18. Any player who has been through multiple 16-game grinds is against this idea.

“You’re tacking on more and more wear and tear on the body,” said Brian Dawkins, a Broncos’ safety and their strongest union voice.

“I think there should be two preseason games and a 16-game regular season,” Broncos defensive end Justin Bannan said.

That will never happen.

The NFL is always about more, not less. This is where the 18-game season comes in. According to an estimate by Plunkett Research, the NFL will generate $7.8 billion in revenue this season.

If it follows that the proposed 12.5 percent increase in regular-season games from 16 to 18 will mean an additional 12.5 percent in revenues — ticket and concession prices will go up, TV rights fees will go up, sponsorship dollars will go up — then revenues in 2012 theoretically would reach $8.8 billion.

The owners would tell the players: Instead of 59.5 percent of a $7.8 billion revenue pie (which computes to $4.6 billion to the players), why not take 55 percent of an $8.8 billion pie ($4.8 billion)?

Plus, Goodell said an 18-game regular season would allow for increased roster sizes, which are currently set at 80 players during the offseason, 53 during the season.

If, say, five more players are added to each of the 32 teams, the expanded regular season would mean an additional 160 player jobs.

Understandably, the players still view this as more physical abuse in return for a smaller percentage of revenue. But ultimately, players may not have much choice because under the late Gene Upshaw’s previous union leadership, it was agreed upon that the owners could unilaterally enforce a regular-season expansion.

The owners could have approved the 18-game schedule Wednesday, but declined out of respect to the sensitivity of the ongoing labor negotiations.

“As you know, in the collective bargaining agreement we have the right to go to 22 games,” Goodell said.

If that sounds absurd, review history. As recently as 1960, the NFL played a 12-game season. At its current pace, the league is 50 years away from 22-game seasons.

Somewhere, a future surgeon is smiling.

That doesn’t mean owners are nice guys for considering an expansion to “only” 18 games. It just means an 18-game schedule starting in 2012 will lead the NFL back to the field some time, if not on time, in 2011.

“I do think it will help us address some of the issues that we are facing,” Goodell said. “That has to be done in the context of the collective bargaining agreement.”