The NFL is big business. With television revenue averaging $5.1 billion annually and expected to rise to almost $7 billion by the year 2022, there is no doubt the NFL is scheduled to make record profits in the coming decade. Even with a sluggish economy, the NFL sold out 98 percent of their games and saw the NFL take 31 of the top 32 slots for fall television programming in 2012. However, NFL teams, with the largest active rosters in American sports, were capped at $120.6 million last season and saw an increase to only $123 million for 2013.
The NFL introduced the salary cap in 1994 which was a trade-off for granting players true free agency. At the time it seemed a fair trade-off but was it really? The intention of the cap was to prevent any one team, especially those in larger markets, from cornering the market on free agents. Basically, the idea behind the salary cap was to give small market teams a chance to compete. Only in sports do the teams that make a lot of money have to prop up those that don’t and the salary cap is the weapon the NFL wields to ensure parity within its product.
The question is, does this enforced parity actually accomplish anything? Only the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots have won back-to-back Super Bowls. However, the New York Giants (three appearances, two wins), Pittsburgh Steelers (four appearances, two wins), Baltimore Ravens (two wins), Green Bay Packers (three appearances, two wins),Patriots (six appearances, three wins), St. Louis Rams (one win in two appearances), San Francisco 49ers (one win in two appearances) and Indianapolis Colts (two appearances, one win) have all appeared in, or won, multiple Super Bowls since the salary cap was introduced. That is 18 of 19 Super Bowls that have featured at least one of the aforementioned teams. Only Super Bowl XXXVII between the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t feature at least one of those teams.
Is there truly parity in the NFL? What does the salary cap really do? One unintended victim of the NFL salary cap and the constant turnover taking place with rosters all over the NFL is the NFL fan. The Licensing Letter, a New York-based trade publication estimated in 2011 that NFL merchandise sales topped $3 billion, an increase from $2.8 billion in 2010. Fans buying jerseys of their favorite player accounted for a significant portion of those sales.
While there has been no impact yet on jersey and other apparel sales, the average NFL fan does not have hundreds of dollars to burn every few years on a new jersey to replace an older one of a player who was cut or traded. For example, Darrelle Revis was the second-best selling New York Jets jersey last season behind Tim Tebow. However, because of a contract dispute which can be traced back to the Jets’ salary cap situation, the Jets are looking to trade Revis which force all of those Jets fans to either wear an outdated jersey or drop another $70+ on a new jersey of another player who will probably last three or four seasons before he too is cut because of a salary cap crunch.
Fans deserve more than the NFL is willing to give. The highest person in the league is not a player. It isn’t a coach either. It is commissioner Roger Goodell who is slated to make $30 million in 2013 or roughly $10 million more per year than any NFL player. Instead of NFL fans being able to watch a star player at a skill position other than quarterback play their entire career in one place, they are often forced to watch a favorite player switch teams or get unceremoniously cut towards the end of their career. What is happening between the Giants and Victor Cruz is a perfect example. Cruz is a fan favorite. He came basically out of nowhere, is a local player area youth can look up to, set team records and helped lead the Giants to a Super Bowl win. Now, because of the salary cap, the Giants might be forced to let him walk or trade him.
In no other business in America, except other sports, do the smaller teams receive help from competitors in some fashion. Whether luxury tax, salary cap or revenue sharing, successful teams are punished and forced to prop up the weaker organizations. It isn’t fair, isn’t right, and is downright un-American. The NFL owes it to their fans to allow them to watch their favorite players on their favorite teams instead of watching these players come and go like clouds at the beach. Fans invest a lot of time, energy, and money into their favorite teams and players and the NFL should reward that loyalty by allowing teams to keep the players they draft if they so desire and not have to jettison them for “salary cap reasons.”