Why the NFL is a lot like China

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 July, 2011, 12:00am


One week ago the United States was in a perilous state. Fear ruled the country as two seemingly irresolvable issues loomed ominously like the grim reaper's scythe.

The first was the unresolved debt crisis pitting the White House against the House Republicans. The US needs more money to pay its bills because their credit cards are maxed out and they wish to raise their limit. But the intransigent Republican right lives and breathes to cut taxes and government spending so they are saying no more debt; since Congress needs to approve raising the debt ceiling, and since Republicans control the House, this is a serious problem. What's it all mean sports fans? If there is no resolution by August 2 then the US will default on its debts and the world will be plunged into a financial apocalypse the likes of which we have not seen since, oh, a little less than three years ago.

The second particularly ominous and far more serious issue facing the US was the NFL lockout. Although the football season does not officially start for two months, the protracted work stoppage caused when management locked out workers for the past 132 days had the country in a tizzy. The only football Americans have been following lately was the political football that the debt crisis had become and hell, Mr Senator and Mr Congressman, that ain't going to win you no votes in Texas or Tennessee.

Americans are an enormously demanding people and they demand the right to watch grown men mutilate and maim each other on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights, so you know they were rejoicing in the streets this week when the players and the owners finally signed a deal that will ensure a big old fixing of the NFL for years to come. One crisis down, one to go and I am sure if you polled the country the majority of Americans would say they are fine if the country goes broke, as long as they get to watch their football.

The truth is that if the US defaults on its debt then it could be a serious breach of sovereignty, with China holding a disproportionate amount of those IOUs. If we were to ask Americans how they feel about China owning a significant part of their country, I have a feeling the majority might say, 'I hope those commies like football'. And you know what? I think they will.

The folks up north in Beijing know a winning hand when they see one. They will look at the current management and fiscal structure of the NFL and see a truly kindred soul. The ownership of the 32-team NFL is made up of some of the richest and fiercest anti-tax advocates in the country.

On the surface, these captains of commerce and champions of the free market economy with a minimum of government interference would seem to be completely at odds with the over-regulated Politburo in Beijing. But upon further review it seems that the NFL owners, who are blessed with a government-sanctioned anti-trust exemption protecting their business practices, magically become card-carrying socialists when it comes to their football investment.

Unlike Major League Baseball, the NFL has a hard salary cap that limits the amount the owners can pay employees. And these free-market, anti-tax owners also have zero problems accepting millions in public tax dollars to build themselves shining new stadiums that reap untold financial rewards for them.

Throw in the fact that, unlike baseball, there is no such thing as a guaranteed contract in the NFL. If a player is debilitated and no longer able to perform, he is simply cut from the team and his contract is no longer valid. While the rewards for service at the higher end of the playing arc are quite lucrative, the majority of workers in the NFL make good but hardly great money. And the owners dispose of them freely, knowing there is a chorus line three miles long of young men willing to sacrifice life and limb for a shot at NFL glory.

There is no performance-based standard that helps to remove underachieving owners either. Even if your team stinks for years on end, the owner is blessed with a fixed cost structure and still makes money from a guaranteed TV contract and therefore feels no compulsion to improve his team. The leader of this group, the man they call the commissioner, is appointed by a group of 32 owners and governs by dictatorial and arbitrary decrees such as the one he used to lock the workers out so the owners could gain back fiscal control.

So America, do you really want to know if the boys in Beijing who are holding a couple of trillion dollars of US debt will like football? Let me see, fixed cost structure, government-sanctioned protection that ensures zero transparency, complete disregard for workers' rights and a leader who has no popular mandate. So what's not to like? Yeah, it's great news America. The NFL is back so you can all exhale. But what about that debt crisis? Well no, that still stinks but who cares? It's China's problem now.