The League

Peter Schaffer
NFL Agent

Peter Schaffer

Agent and professor of sports law

The Ball's Better With Cinderella

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As I have said numerous times this season, the NFL is the most successful and adored professional sports league in the history of sports. This is the case for many reasons, the most preeminent of which is that teams can go from chumps to champs in a matter of months. Fortunes rise and fall as quickly as the tides on the Bay of Fundy. While some pundits may argue that this is not good for the overall success of the sport, the reality is that it's great for the fans, the teams, the players and the game.

In the other three major professional leagues, the teams that win in the beginning of the season are usually the ones that are hoisting trophies at the end of it. Football is the one major sport where franchise fortunes can change from year to year and even from September to December. That hope keeps fans riveted and rooting for their squads year to year and month to month.

This equity, it is due in large part to the NFL business setup, specifically collective bargaining, and the realities of the game itself. The economic factors of the NFL start and end with the relative parity of revenues derived by each club. In the early 1960's legendary Giants owner Wellington Mara mandated an equal split of the national television package which continues to the this day. The equity is further perpetuated by the fact that most teams sell out their home games and split revenues from most other sources including NFL Films, NFL Properties and the NFL Network. This prevents the incredible chasms of revenue that exist in the other sports (see the New York Yankees).

The economic equality of collective bargaining allows teams to dramatically and quickly change their futures through the draft and free agency. The NFL draft, as opposed to other sports, provides an immediate pipeline of young talented players who can provide an immediate impact for their teams. And despite what some say, free agency is not the bane of every team's existence in the NFL. Football is the only major professional sport which allows young superstars to become free agents after only 4 years of service. This gives teams the ability to spend their equal revenues on players who can immediate change the fortunes of the franchises.

The last component is a dash of luck that is required for success. In the NFL, luck presents itself in many forms each and every week, from injuries to officiating to schedules to the bounces of an oddly shaped ball. Would anyone have said this year that losing Vince Young to an injury would have helped the Tennessee Titans? The reality is that this unfortunate situation occurred and the team did not self destruct. Instead, under the adroit guidance of senior statesmen Kerry Collins, they not only adjusted, they excelled.

All of these factors have the net effect of giving fans the belief that each year their team can make the playoffs and even win the Lombardi Trophy. The Cardinals are the embodiment of this. Through a skillful use of the draft, free agency and a dash of luck, they made the transition from bottom dweller to Super Bowl participant in a matter of 2 short years (see also the Falcons, Dolphins and Jets). These teams demonstrate to their fans that with enough effort and money any team can compete at the highest level. The fans return the favor by attending games, buying paraphernalia and fanatically sporting them. This is what makes the NFL so great and why Cinderellas help the game.

By Peter Schaffer  |  January 24, 2009; 11:17 AM ET  | Category:  Arizona Cardinals , Peter Schaffer Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Schaffer repeats the popular myth that the NFL has more parity than other sports. It is amazing how many fall for this silliness. Major League Baseball, despite no salary cap, has more parity than the NFL. Unexpected Cinderella teams show up in MLB almost every year, and they usually post great records (unlike the Cardinals' 9-7). Check out the Tigers, White Sox, Marlins and Rays, for example -- teams that went from nowhere to the Worlds Series in a year. Eight different teams have won the World Series in the last nine years. What was the last time 8 different teams won the Super Bowl in a 9-year period? Answer: never!

As for the supposed parity in revenue, that is becoming a myth in the NFL as well. I'm a Buffalo fan, and can tell you that that team's revenues are well behind the Cowboys, Redskins and many other teams, and this is affecting its ability to retain and sign players. And this shows the signs of getting worse every year.

Posted by: woocane | January 24, 2009 2:18 PM

Woocane is correct in part and that is because of the NFL allowing teams to keep revenue from private suites etc. It will be interesting to see what impact the economic downturn will have on this since not many companies that are struggling will have happy stockholders when they see what part of the expenses are going to such luxuries for executives. I believe Dallas was the first to bolt on the sharing issue. The league should have the strong leaders they had in the 60's to have stopped that. In the long run, the teams following that lead will cost all of them. I think this is the classical case of the mathematical principle in Prisoner's Dilemma

Posted by: TomfromNJ1 | January 25, 2009 8:19 PM

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