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Burt Grossman: Getting to the Juicy Stuff

Aug 20, 2010

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Posturing has already started between the two sides in the upcoming NFL labor dispute. Although it’s still in the pre-game warm-up stage, reading between the lines and newspaper quotes shows both sides expect – or are at least positioning – for a lockout.

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The centerpiece of the battle is the percentage of revenue sharing. The real issue is not the percentage but the true gross number on which the percentage is based. It has long been whispered that the greatest untold story in sports is what NFL owners actually make, as compared to what they report. Monies paid to themselves, family members and subsidiary companies through those huge consulting fees and offshore money transfers to lower the bottom line first, thus lowering the players’ claim to their cut of the pie. And now the owners also want the players to take more money off the top to cover costs for stadiums. Is that like General Motors asking the UAW to help them finance a new car factory while also taking a pay cut?

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The interesting part of this is the Union’s inability (or lack of motivation) to actually pursue an audit of the various teams’ books. Part of the issue has been the belief by the majority of retired players that Gene Upshaw was in bed with the NFL owners, he was paid a huge salary in comparison to other professional sport union heads yet delivered little or nothing compared to other union leaders in professional sports. 60% of revenue to the players may seem like a fair deal but if the number that the 60% is based on is tainted, isn’t the whole deal tainted? But how do you go about verifying that actual number and the bigger question is: Why does the Union continue to beg for the numbers to be revealed rather that force the numbers to be revealed? Or could there be old side deals lurking under the surface from the Upshaw days that absolutely no one wants to have see the light of day?

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The common belief among most retired players is that Gene Upshaw was compensated to not pursue the real numbers but the reality is 50% of the whole pie is always a much better deal than 60% of half the pie; that is, unless you dress it up to look like the Princess Bride and not the true gross revenue of the NFL.

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There is a little-publicized case working its way right now through arbitration and eventually the courts that has the potential to change all of this and lift the veil of secrecy surrounding what NFL clubs really make. It deals with collusion claims between two separate clubs and the failure to make severance payments to retired players during the 1990’s. The clubs involved refuse to provide proof of payment while at the same time refusing to explain some disturbing documentation that shows apparent collusion and failure on their part to have followed through on their contractual obligations. The important thing about this case is that it holds the potential to advance to the courts and force financial disclosure of two NFL teams through subpoenas. The NFLPA has agreed to represent the plaintiff in this issue, marking the first time the Union has stepped up to actually represent a retired player in a claim.

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It’s pretty clear the NFL will never voluntarily open its books to the Union. The real question is: Why is the Union still asking and begging? Why not find a way to force a club to open their books through a trial or court subpoena? Or maybe the IRS…? The previous regime under Upshaw may have been compensated not to pursue the real numbers but why hasn’t DeMaurice Smith seized on this opportunity? By choosing to back this little known severance issue along with the timing of the current CBA expiration, maybe – just maybe – this little case could finally lift the veil off this well-guarded secret: Just how much money does the NFL really make?

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Burt Grossman

San Diego Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles

1989 -1994

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2 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Gordon A. Wright
    August 21st, 2010 at 5:27 am #

    Gordon Wright - NY Jets
    Did I hear someone say collusion? How about Conglomerate? The NFL Owners probably also own well-paid lobbyists, possibly Senators, Congressmen, Supreme Court Justices on their payroll – this is just a thought. Why did no news networks cover any Government loans to the NFL when the economy collapsed in 2008? Just a question.

    Gordon Wright
    Philadelphia Eagles & New York Jets
    1967 – 1970

  2. Gregg Bingham
    August 24th, 2010 at 11:36 pm #

    Greg Bingham
    ding ding ding…

    Grossman hits it out of the park!!! Way to go, Bert!

    Gregg Bingham
    Houston Oilers
    1973 -1984

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