49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

May 21, 2008
The CBA vote: 49ers in a precarious position

NFL owners voted yesterday to opt out of their contract with the players and in so doing effectively grabbed the proverbial golden goose and put a switchblade to its neck. So who's to blame here? It's got to be those greedy fat cat owners, right? Well, at the risk of sounding like the president of the Young Republicans club, I think the fat cats have some very legitimate concerns.

First is the amount of money that is currently devoted to players' paychecks. Right now, the players get nearly 60 percent of total revenue or about $4.5 billion overall. That's a bigger chunk than NBA players (57 percent) and much bigger than hockey players (55.6 percent). I'm not sure what baseball players - who have the strongest union in all of sports - are getting, but I know it's less than 60 percent.

The second is rookie salaries, which have become ludicrous. (See: Ryan, Matt). Even the players think rookies make too much. Redskins tight end Chris Cooley made news last month when, in his blog, he said it was ridiculous that someone like Vernon Davis made more money than a top veteran. I asked Davis about Cooley's contention during minicamp, and he said "I didn't appreciate that," before a team PR official standing nearby (funny, they always stand nearby Davis' locker) rescued him from saying anything too contentious. I like Davis and think he's one of the most physically gifted players I've ever watched. But I don't think he should be making more money per year in his initial contract than, say, Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who has been in the league five years and has been to four Pro Bowls.

Then there's the issue of recouping bonus money. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think a guy who's sitting in federal prison for killing dogs should be able to keep his $16.5 million bonus.

John York hasn't commented on the collective bargaining vote because, well, John York speaks to the media once a year. If we're lucky. But I can only imagine that he was one of the owners champing at the bit to end the current deal and get a new deal in place. Over the last few years, team expenses -- i.e. player salaries -- have risen sharply, and that is particularly onerous for an owner like York who a.) has an old stadium that is not pulling in heaps of cash and b.) must throw all his available capital into building a new stadium, the cost of which is just shy of $1 billion.

Still, voting to opt out of the contract brings a big risk. The 49ers, via the team spokesman, said that yesterday's vote won't impact the team's plans to build a stadium in Santa Clara. But you have to believe that if there is a work stoppage in 2011 , one year before the stadium is planned for completion, it will have an enormous impact. Imagine you want to buy a big, new, super-expensive home. Would a bank loan you any money if you had no income? (Okay, given the recent lending fiasco, maybe that's a bad example). But the 49ers might find themselves in a precarious situation if there isn't any football being played in 2011.

Which is why it's hard to imagine there will be a work stoppage. The owners couldn't afford one. The 49ers aren't the only team at a delicate crossroads. The league has a collective $9 billion in debt, much of it from stadiums that have been built in recent years. They need a steady income to pay that off. The Minnesota Vikings are saddled with debt. The Bills have to play games in Toronto to boost their income. The other two California teams, the Chargers and Raiders, play in outdated stadiums. Even one of the well-to-do franchises, the Dallas Cowboys, would be hard-pressed to deal with a lockout. Everyone expects their new stadium will be a cash cow for them. But you have to have fans, you know, actually show up so you can make money and pay back the money used to build the stadium.

-- Matt Barrows.


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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