Lombardi: Labor peace essential

I hate to steal ideas from other media sources, but it was hard to resist a story Sunday in the local paper about the Green Bay Packers' financial status.

The current news is very good. The Packers ranked 10th in the league in revenues last year. The Lambeau Field renovation has accomplished what it was designed to do. It made the Packers competitive in the league, without the deep pockets of a billionaire owner.

There are of course some storm clouds on the horizon. The player salary cap expires after the 2006 season and the collective bargaining agreement between the Players' Union and the League ends at the end of 2007. These may seem like small things or far off deadlines, but they are very important issues to the NFL and the Packers especially.

The NFL is the preeminent sports league in the country because they have had labor peace for over a decade. The league, headed by Paul Tagliabue, and the players' union, headed by Gene Upshaw, have a working relationship that should be the model for sports leagues worldwide. For some reason, it is not. The league is grounded on the theory that the only competition between clubs should be on the field. Off the field, they work together to insure the financial health of each team. Because the league is only and strong as its weakest link.

It has not always been this way. Those old enough can remember back to strikes and replacement players and court decisions. This turmoil resulted in the system the league now has in place. The NFL is the strongest of the pro sports because of the collective bargaining agreement and the arrangement between labor and management.

Each team gets an equal share of the pooled revenues and the union has agreed to a salary cap that fixes each team's player costs, which is the large chunk of its operating expenses. Take away the predictability of the cap and you get a situation like baseball where teams can outspend each other to acquire talent. The Packers will more than likely lose that battle. Without a deep pockets owner, who can dip into his own stash of cash, Green Bay will be on the bottom looking up.

It is not all bad; the shared revenues will not go away, although there are certain owners who have tried to readjust this policy to fit their own needs. The TV contracts keep going up, so the Packers will keep getting more and more money from the networks. But without the labor predictability, this equation will favor the rich.

I have all the faith that the League and the union will not screw up a good thing. The arrangement benefits both sides. What I think the union wants is for additional revenues to be added to the pool that decides what the salary cap is. There are many sources of revenue that are excluded from the pool, most of them locally generated. The Packers are healthy today because of those local revenues. The players want a cut and probably want a bigger cut of what they are already getting. So look for both sides to work together on this issue. Compromise is the word of the day. Their track record shows that they will do what is in the best interest of the sport, which benefits all, including the fans.

If the league and the Packers are sitting here in a few years in the same boat as the NHL, NBA or Major League Baseball, then they only have themselves and their greed to blame. I think they are smart enough to avoid the mistakes of their peer leagues and insure that we, the fans, get to do what we do best, which is criticize the play calling on the field, not the boardroom or courtroom.

John Lombardi

Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. John resides with his family in Green Bay . His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. He will be contributing columns for PackerReport.com.

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