Hillenmeyer: Open the Books!

Former player Hunter Hillenmeyer served as a player representative for the Chicago Bears. He joined Grizzly Detail last month to provide his unique perspective on the NFL work stoppage and the fall out of the failed negotiations.

Open the Books!

You've heard this mantra from the players' camp enough that you are probably sick off it. Should the owners oblige? Should players expect them to? The back and forth in the court of public opinion about what the owners should share and why has been exhausting.

Here's my take:

The players wanted data to validate the need for such significant givebacks. What in past labor negotiations has been an argument over which way to move the cap one or two percentage points suddenly became about a dramatic shift involving 18 percent reductions in player costs.

If paying players what they are making now is going to bankrupt the league (as was the case in hockey), then by all means, let's get a deal done, but just include us in the process.

"Just trust us," doesn't cut it when we're talking about taking players back to the 1980s in terms of salary structure.

Its true, the NFL did offer some financial info towards the end of mediation. We rejected it, not because nothing is better than something, which it is not, but because the perception would then be that we got what we needed.

I saw the proposal of what was to be shared. It's almost like the NFL sat down in a room to figure out exactly what they could concoct financially that would sound the most useful to the public, while providing the least possible usable information for the NFLPA purposes. It was almost sarcastic, like they were daring us to decertify so they could blame us for talks breaking down.

If that was their goal, it worked. Players took the brunt of public outcry immediately after negotiations fell apart as the Jeff Pash media hour began. After having time to digest everything that went down leading up to the decertification/lockout exchange, I have my own theory as to why ownership was so unwilling to share financial data.

First, they play an internal game of cat and mouse in trying to maximize revenues as 32  competitors and as one league.

However, at the same time, the owners tru to shield as much of that income as they can from the wary eyes of fellow owners lest it into the "revenue sharing pot."  Rich owners cry less rich and less rich owners cry poor.

I am sure individual owners would be holding their breath if the NFLPA suddenly had access to all their financials. Even if somehow that data was compartmentalized so no owners would see each other's business, there are likely lots of "hidden-revenue skeletons" in the closets of owners' manors, estates, and private jets across the country.

Second, I doubt the data would have provided much justification for anything. They already told us they weren't losing money; I'm not a finance genius, but I know thats a good thing.

Ultimately, I think the real fear was of those financial documents becoming public. Think about it. Virtually every NFL stadium has at least some public financing. I did some research, and the only stadium I could find that was built with entirely private funding was Gillette Stadium.

God Bless Bob Craft and his gobs of money, even Jerry Jones needed $325 million of Arlington taxpayer money to build his giant television screen... I mean stadium. Over half of NFL stadiums are entirely publicly owned.

Owners were afraid of getting caught red-handed, extorting fans of the game and exploiting players, all while pocketing piles of money built in no small part by the bump in franchise value associated with having a shiny new stadium.

A sidebar point here relates to the value of an LA franchise.

With such a potentially lucrative open market, team owners with old stadiums and skinnier margins than they would prefer can hold (and have held) their fan bases hostage with the threat of moving the franchise. Team owners fought hand over fist against Al Davis moving the Raiders back in the day, but their ability to finance stadiums with other people's money is intimately linked to his winning that fight. The LA franchise may be worth more to the NFL empty than as home to a team.

Players are not bystanders to the funding framework either. After all, players both fund and benefit from new stadiums already. The G3 funding mechanism, used in the past to loan individual teams money for new stadium construction or renovation, came from players' slice of revenues as well.

G3 funding was one of the first things I thought of when Roger Goodell complained that players needed to sacrifice in order to grow the game? G3 funding did this in the past. We will always look to play our role in growing the game with vehicles like this.

Open the books, don't open the books?

I am enough of a realist to acknowledge that there was certainly a middle ground on this issue, short of 10 years of audited financial statements (wanted by players), but much more involved than the clear as mud transparency offered by owners.

Make your own opinions, but know this: Had owners really wanted to get a deal done, this is one issue that cost them nothing, where they could have easily compromised.

I, for one, think their unwillingness to do so should tell us something.

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