NFL Teams Are Downsizing, Before They Lose A Cent

>> 5.11.2011

It started in December 2008, when the NFL laid off ten percent of its staff. From the AP article:

Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday that the league is cutting more than 10 percent of its staff in response to the downturn in the nation’s economy that could put a dent in ticket sales for next season.

That’s right: the NFL laid off 150 people because the richest sports league in the world may—or may not—see a dip in ticket sales. Not because there had been, just because there might be. I don’t have actual ticket sales figures, so I can’t tell you exactly how the prophecy was fulfilled, but we can see the reported attendance thanks to’s NFL Attendance database:

Year Total Avg. Pct.

















It’s true that in terms of percentage of capacity, there was a dip from 2007 to 2008: instead of NFL stadiums across the league being 99% full, on the average, they were merely 97% full (the spike in total attendance is due to four teams not reporting their home attendance in 2007). Apparently, the specter of looming disaster—only 97% capacity!—spooked the NFL so badly that they had to lay of 10% of their workforce. It’s a good thing they did, because they suffered another horrific 2% drop in 2009! Again, that’s attendance—people who showed up—not tickets sold.

It’s unfathomable to me that the economics of the NFL are structured so that if every team doesn’t sell out every game, people have to lose their jobs. There’s nine billion coming in the door to split amongst a total workforce of several thousand . . . and in order to make payroll, the league has to dump many of the few who don’t draw six-, seven-, or eight-figure paychecks? Secretaries and sales folks had to go on the dole so the NFL could afford Roger Goodell’s $9.76 million 2009 salary—a figure arrived at after Goodell volunteered for a “20-25%” pay cut from off his previous $11M. Math was never my strong suit, but I don’t think one million is 25% of eleven million.

Unfortunately, the teams are following the league's example. According to a 2009 USA Today article, “10-12 teams” had laid off “about 200 people” in advance of the 2010 season.  How could they justify mass job cuts in anticipation of an economic downturn, even as revenue, ratings, and interest are at levels never before seen in the history of sport?

Some of the league's layoffs are clearly intended to impact talks on the collective bargaining agreement, which could start up this spring, after the NFL Players Association selects a new executive director to replace the late Gene Upshaw. The owners opted out of the contract last season, arguing it was too favorable to players, who receive nearly 60% of total revenues — an estimated $4.5 billion next season with a salary cap increasing from $116 million to $123 million.

Oh right. Posturing.

A year later, NFL teams continue to cry poor, and it’s again the little guy who’s feeling the pinch. Some teams, like the Chiefs and Jets, have already laid off or furloughed employees this offseason. Yesterday, the Dolphins announced that salaries would be slashed 10-20% for for all “support staff” for the duration of the lockout. So, some owners are making sure that all their employees feel the pinch of the lockout they’re imposing, not just the ones they’re negotiating with. This is particularly egregious coming from Dolphins owner Steven Ross, who in January gassed up his private jet and flew to California to offer Jim Harbaugh a salary “in the $7 million-to-$8 million range.” Clearly, he’s got the money to pay his administrative assistants. He just doesn’t want to.

That several other NFL teams have announced that they will not lay off or furlough staff due to the lockout is both heartening, and damning. Heartening, because it lets us know that not all owners are hell-bent on Scrooging everyone on their payroll, just because they can. Damning, because it proves that the rest of them are doing exactly that.

I have to say, not for the first time, that I’m awfully proud of the Lions franchise for doing this the right way: Tom Lewand announced back in March that there will be no changes in staffing as a result of the lockout. I’m not sure whose call that is; I know Mr. Ford rarely involves himself in the nitty-gritty of league business. But here’s a golden opportunity to tighten up employee costs under false pretenses of hardship, and the Lions aren’t taking it. As mad as I am about the way other teams are approaching this whole mess, I’m proud of the way the Lions are.

Technorati Tags: nfl,detroit lions,nfl lockout,nfl lawsuit,tom lewand,steven ross,miami dolphins,roger goodell


Zac,  May 12, 2011 at 11:00 AM  

WFC has been labeled loyal to a fault in the past. Works in his favor this time.

Alvin,  May 12, 2011 at 11:26 AM  

But why would Billionaires share the wealth Ty!!Why that is down right unamerican and all Libs who feel that way should be shot on the spot,lol. Billionaires should however lay a bunch of people off and make them join a social program(unemployment) to survive while the billionaires lobby against unemployment and all social programs through our government, all the while not paying taxes because they claim all their money is made overseas. But I digress... ;).


Ty,  May 12, 2011 at 11:28 AM  


Agreed. Sometimes, that loyalty pays off (like in keeping Lewand and Mayhew)!


Luxembourg,  May 12, 2011 at 1:20 PM  

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Tim in AZ,  May 12, 2011 at 1:42 PM  


Unrelated to this post, but I just read on that Shaun Hill was blitzed the least frequently per drop back of any QB in the league last year. Do you think we should be concerned about our relatively high pass protection rating (over inflation of OL skill) based on the fact that teams didn't seem to be trying that hard against us?

Matt,  May 12, 2011 at 2:20 PM  

I would like to join the chorus of cheers for how the Lions as a team/organization have handled the lockout. My only criticism is that I wish we heard MORE from them and they took more of a leadership role. I think they set a great example and can/should lead by it. KVB says all the right things, but he's not at the negotiating table. And I have no idea who is representing the Lions on the ownership side or what their stance on the issues is.

NorthLeft12,  May 14, 2011 at 12:59 PM  

Ty, I could not agree with you more. I would be very disappointed if the Lions used the "economic downturn" excuse to take a few bucks away from the people least able to afford it.

I would like to see someone bring this up in the teleconference with Goodell and Lewand this Thursday.

RIP,  May 16, 2011 at 1:27 PM  

Ty, also remember that the Lion's health benefits use to be, and most likely still true today, one of the best in the NFL.

Then we also include the Allen Park facilities which is probably one of the NFL's better for training and recuperations for the NFL's weekly grind.

The NFL is much better than the Days when Tom Kowalski played for the Lions twenty years ago, or when his dad played for the Lions in the sixties. Does anyone remember wear Killer's dad worked after he retired from his playing days? You are corrected in saying for the Lion's front office.

Avril is correct in saying what he said for yesteryears football players. His comments for today's players hold little wieght to me when all try have to do his budget for retirement.

RIP,  May 17, 2011 at 11:59 AM  

I have some issues in what is happening in the labor dispute.

Players want more money, and still have a health care for thier post playing days. They do not trust the owners with the money, so why do they not create thier own health insurance. When they retire, they would do a full physical to determine thier pension plan for health care. One limb would be a certain percentage. More limbs would increase thier percentage.

So how does it get started I asked myself. First the players have to get one started outside of player's union. Then to get it started, take the 4 billion dollars in dispute and have that as the owners initial installment. This would amount to about 125 million per team. The players can take thier 55 percent of the gross revenue to divide up into thier salaries. The rest is to the players, and retiries, to figure out.

The real question then becomes can the players and retiries work with each other? Kind of reminds me of a Rush song "There is trouble in the Forest" where the Maples want more sunlight, but the oaks are too greedy.

RIP,  May 17, 2011 at 12:19 PM  

More on the limbs thing.

If you had a bad ankle or knee it would be 10%. If there are 2 legs involved then it would be 20%. A hip or a spinal would be 20% each. If the NFL football related injuries reach 70% or higher, the retiries would recieve 100% health benifits.

So before the players retire, the team handles thier medical like it is now. After they file for retirement, it up to the players to have documented proof that thier claims where from playing the game during thier NFL career.

Which brings up something else. Lets take Avril as and example. He makes x amount of dollars guarteed if he makes the original roster. Then if he hurts himself, the lions still pick up the tab to fix him back up. This is added benefits that the team picks up on top of the guaranteed salary. The players do not have to pay for any type of health care, like the normal work force?

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