Memo to Randy: Don't Be Evil

The current strife within the NFL ownership group about local revenues is more than just a dull administrative issue. It is a decision which will have huge ramifications for the league's relationship with players and fans. It is from that second perspective that OBR publisher Barry McBride has always written...

I don't always buy the hype around Internet wunderkind Google.com, but I have to admit that they've got the best corporate motto I've ever heard: "Don't be evil".

That beats the hell out of most corporate mission statements that I've been forced to read, which are long, dull, and the obvious product of 10,000 man-hours spent in meeting rooms eyeing the last doughnut while someone without P/L responsibility drones on about corporate values. Been there, hated that.

I would argue "Don't be evil" trumps all the corporate mission statements I've ever heard, including our mission statement here at the OBR: "Hey! Who took my beer?".

While I'm not going to consider swiping Google's corporate motto for our own use here, I will suggest that Randy Lerner ponder whether or not he should incorporate something similar for the Cleveland Browns.

You see, I've been wondering lately whether Cleveland Browns are really the "good guys", who returned the team to their deserving fans, or the "bad guys", who are just making problems worse for others.

I hate to phrase a complex issue in such stark terms, but this might be a situation which calls for it.

The reason for my recent concern is an article that appeared Tuesday's Washington Post that indicated that the Browns might be among a group of eight or nine teams which is considering a lawsuit against their fellow NFL owners if they are forced to share a greater percentage of local revenues. The assumption, which may or may not be correct, is that the Browns are one of the teams opposed to sharing local revenues because they're among the top teams in that category.

The problem of the moment is that internal disputes between owners about whether to share local revenue are creating labor problems. The NFL's all-important Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is threatened because owners can't agree on this issue. All the players know is that they want a piece of it - they don't care how it's carved up between the teams, but the NFL can't move forward until they've addressed it.

If the CBA falls apart, then the stability of the league itself is threatened, along with such cherished institutions as the NFL Draft. The draft will not be held in 2008 without a new CBA or an extension to the existing one. In addition, 2007 could become a year without a salary cap, which would cause chaos that starts immediately.

Beyond the current labor dispute, sharing of local revenues is an issue with a tremendous impact on fans.

If the Browns are against sharing local revenues, then, in my opinion, they are part of the problem. From a fan's perspective, they've chosen to go over to the Dark Side.

Let me explain.

The NFL has achieved its incredible success for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the appeal of the game itself. But the NFL has succeeded where other football leagues have failed because the owners of the league tended to opt for the common good rather than focusing on their individual financial success. This approach, of sharing revenue and maintaining an equal playing field among all teams, has allowed the NFL to surpass Major League Baseball as the most successful of all the professional sports leagues.

Unfortunately, while the NFL shares and shares alike, they do not do so completely. What has been omitted from revenue sharing between teams for the last several decades are local revenues.

This has been the source of a huge number of problems.  In fact, of all the problems suffered by the NFL in the eyes of their fans, none has been more significant those caused by this loophole in how NFL teams split the mind-bogglingly large pie that has been baked for them. The ramifications for fans have been immense.

The Browns leaving town in 1995 can be traced in large part to NFL clubs refusing to share local revenues. Art Modell considered himself at a disadvantage with respect to other owners because he was able to draw less revenue from stadium and other local deals than his fellow owners around the league.

That Modell couldn't run a lemonade stand without going into bankruptcy was an issue he preferred not to acknowledge, but the old Browns owner did get focused on local revenues from his Stadium. He watched jealously while other owners got shipments of cash from their local deals in huge flatbed trucks, while he was forced to live as a mere pauper in his multi-million dollar home and couldn't afford the estate taxes to hand the team down to his son. So, he left town.

The impact from this gap in revenue sharing goes far beyond inept owners and franchise movement, however.

Take this quote from Tuesday's Washington Post article: "Growing disparities in locally generated revenues -- including those from stadium-naming rights, local TV and radio deals, sponsorships and luxury suites -- have created sizable revenue gaps between teams."

Stadium naming rights? Local TV deals? Sponsorships? Luxury Suites? All local revenue.

Tell me a single one of those things which are good for the average football fan. You can't.

In fact, they are some of the very things which are pointed to as being the biggest nuisances endured by fans of the Cleveland Browns or any other football team.

Beyond the franchise movement which left Cleveland without football for three years, the things done in pursuit of local revenue have created greater distance between the NFL and its fans, and have caused all sorts of secondary and tertiary effects damaging to the sport.

Luxury and club seats - not to mention PSLs - have help to price a lot of fans out of season tickets. Local TV and other media deals (or actual networks or entities owned by the teams) have created conflict of interest problems with the media which are bad and getting worse.

And nothing makes a fan feel more a victim of a marketing sledgehammer, or less connected to his team, than having a chant or conversation interrupted by a loud pitch for the "Official Dried Fruit Product of (Insert Your Team Here)" while contemplating the second mortgage he had to take out to afford his expensive stratospheric perch in Some Foolishly Overspending Business Stadium, which, of course, his taxes paid to build.

I can think of little that has been more destructive to fans than the single-minded pursuit of local revenue on the part of NFL teams. If that revenue has to be shared, one hopes that it would reduce the incentive for local sports franchises to abuse their monopoly power in the local community.

Lake County News-Herald beat writer Jeff Schudel brought up a great point on Tuesday night when we discussed these issues as our radio show was coming to a close. Jeff pointed out that it's largely the newer owners - guys like Dan Snyder and, perhaps, Randy Lerner - who are making this big push to not share local revenues.

The old guard tends to "get it" and understands how the fate of one team is tied to another. They might even care a little bit about the fans of the sport.

I have no doubt that a number of owners who are campaigning for local revenue sharing are doing so simply because they want more money. The result, however, could be good for fans.

So, here's to hoping that the old guard boxes the greed brigade around the ears, and puts in a local revenue sharing plan which can help to put at least a little bit of a brake on mindless pursuit of local revenue. It would be some of the first good news for fans from the NFL's ownership group in over a decade, and could slow down the NFL's relentless pursuit of their own destruction through greed.

And Randy? In you're reading this, I have some very simple advice from my position as a fan of this team since childhood: "Don't be evil".

- BDMc


Orange and Brown Report publisher Barry McBride has been writing about the Cleveland Browns on the internet and in print since 1996. He can be reached via email at barry@theobr.com.


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