Lions transfer financial loss to employees

May, 23, 2011
5/23/11
5:47
PM ET
Monday, we discussed the Green Bay Packers' decision to cut assistant coach salaries because of financial constraints during the lockout. At the same time, I noted that no NFC North team had commenced the far more egregious process of cutting back rank-and-file employees through paycuts, layoffs or furloughs.

Looks like I spoke too soon.

According to Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News, Lions employees have begun staggered two-week furloughs. Team president Tom Lewand said in March that nothing imminent was planned, but Twentyman reported that everyone who works at the team's Allen Park practice facility -- including Lewand, general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz -- will be affected.

The Lions aren't the only team to have taken this tack. It might be fiscally explainable. And as @etronsman noted via Twitter, furloughs are the least painful method of pay reduction; they're essentially unpaid vacations.

But let's call this what it is: An excuse to maintain revenue levels after voluntarily shutting down the business.

Oh, I'm sure many NFL teams, the Lions included, have realized a decrease in ticket sales and/or corporate sponsorships since the lockout began. Financial projections might be trending downwards, and cashflow might be tight right now.

Who or what is to blame for this shortfall? The economy? An upstart competitor? International trade? Nope.

NFL owners, including the Lions' Ford family, opted to shut down the business and try to pressure players into taking a smaller percentage of what is a highly profitable $9 billion industry. The predictable short-term consequences have been realized, and they've been predictably passed on to a group of people caught in the middle.

Perhaps I'm revealing some of my business naiveté. There is a reason this blog appears on ESPN.com and not on the Wall Street Journal's website. I understand that big businesses want to demonstrate profit growth, not just positive revenue. But I always thought that dynamic was reserved for public companies that must satisfy shareholders, who want the value of their stock to rise.

NFL teams, after all, aren't public companies. They're owned privately and their profits are directed not to shareholders but toward individual ownership groups. (The Green Bay Packers' shareholders do not receive dividends.) So in order to increase their personal return, NFL owners have created a (hopefully) temporary lockout environment that for now will transfer their losses at least in part to their everyman employees.

I suppose you could call that capitalism.

I call it cold and sickening.

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