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Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Lockout'11: Open books and stadiums

By Kevin Seifert

Well, well. Our pet NFL labor topic, the issue of financial transparency between owners and players, has taken center stage Wednesday. According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, the NFL Players Association is asking for additional financial information before agreeing to further revenue givebacks. Owners remain unwilling to grant the request, which would include individual statements from all 32 teams.

Metrodome
A situation like the Minnesota Vikings' push for a new stadium could impact the NFL's thinking in this week's labor negotiations.
You know where I stand on this: An objective third party should be given access to the information and, in turn, create a report based on a mutually agreed upon set of parameters and security formalities.

The union has access to the league's financial bottom line, but they don't have a team-by-team breakdown that would tell them if a revenue downturn is league-wide or skewed by a minority of poorly performing teams. Regardless, the issue generated what I thought was a really thoughtful note from Steve of Wauwatosa, Wis., who connected the dots between a number of related topics to help explain owners' reluctance:
The more I think about the lack of detailed financial information, the more significant it becomes. The owners expect the players to take less on their word that money is tight. But the fact we don't already have more information is because so many states and communities have done just that. They put up countless millions to build stadiums with no public disclosure as to the teams' ability to pay a fair share. IF there had been such disclosure, we'd have it in the record already. But we don't.
How did anyone calculate the teams' "fair share" if no one ever saw their books? Maybe one reason the teams expect the players to take their word for it is because that tactic has already worked so many times before.

Excellent point, Steve, and one that has significant relevance to the Minnesota Vikings' current stadium drive. The NFL has done a masterful job of creating the impression that the "norm" or "going rate" for building stadiums is to ask taxpayers for about 70 percent of the financing. The remaining 30 percent is purported to be what teams can afford while still reaping the windfall that would allow them to compete financially with their league-wide competitors.

A detailed look at each team's finances might provide a different picture. Have local governments kept their teams in business by building them stadiums? Or have they been leveraged into a market that generates obscene profits for individual owners?

We don't know the answer to those questions. The financial reports of individual teams would help us answer them. That information is so valuable that I wonder if we won't ultimately end up where Michael Silver suggested over at Yahoo! Sports: Owners reducing their demands for a giveback in exchange for keeping the individual reports private. Given the stadiums the NFL still hopes to build around the country, that reduction might be the best money they ever committed.