Labor Dispute Rages On, NFL Network Pulls Plug On Live Broadcasts
Turn back the clocks, ladies and gentlemen. The Arena Football League is officially only available on tape delay once again. Just as was the case two decades ago when the AFL's "national" broadcasts could only be seen on ESPN on replays, often times at 3:00 a.m. and other obscene hours, we are back to only being able to get our games almost 24 hours after they happen. What was once known as "Friday Night Football" on the NFL Network now may as well be known as "Saturday Afternoon Football Played on Friday Night."
In an open letter to the fans of the AFL put out on Tuesday night, the league admitted to the fact that the labor disputes that have now essentially cost the league two games and could cost more as soon as Friday night. According to the release, "It's also important note that [labor disputes] have led to our National Game of the Week being tape delayed by the NFL Network."
Before we go any further, let's take a quick looksie at the proposal that the AFL has made to the players as of this hour… Essentially, the league is telling the players to get their own housing, which is going to take some big bucks out of the players' pockets for monthly rent that they aren't paying for right now. We already know, though the league hasn't publicized it, that the player salary is $400. The league is willing to increase that to $500 this year, and if this 106% increase is accurate, the agreement in 2013 would call for an approximate base salary to the players of $825 per game. That means that players would be getting salaries of $14,850 per year at that point (assuming that the league continues playing an 18-game schedule), which still isn't nearly enough to live off of, especially considering the fact that housing isn't taken care of any longer.
The other notable item in this deal is that salary increases would take place through 2019, insinuating that this is a seven-year CBA that the league is trying to strike. Travel would now be paid by the owners for traded players, something that is not the case this year, though the open letter does state, "It has always been an option for teams to pay for travel when they trade a player."
When the AFL first came back into its form in 2010, and again in 2011, Commissioner Jerry B. Kurz repeatedly told the fans of the league to hang in there. The league had a plan, and it was going to stick to the plan by taking steps forward every single year. Sorry, Commish. This isn't just one small step for arena football. This may as well be one giant leap backwards for the AFL as we know it.
Astronomical comparisons aside, this is a serious problem. At least as of this hour, it really doesn't seem as though the AFLPU and the AFL owners are really any closer to getting a deal finished than the two sides were a week ago when the Cleveland Gladiators essentially never showed up to the game that they ultimately had to forfeit. Thanks to NLRB rules, the Gladiators have no choice but to keep their roster of players that walked out on the franchise, and these are the players that the team is going to have to go with for the foreseeable future.
In fact, if you carefully look at the transactions from the last few days, there aren't a heck of a lot of players that you see that have been put on reassignment.
But in the end, this is another blow to the fans of the AFL, and we have to sit here and essentially be drawn into the court of public opinion. Both the league and the union have put out press releases over the course of the last few days, stating their demands in a very public light. Both sides have essentially tried to woo over the fans with their statements, and this writer just isn't buying it, and apparently, neither is the NFL Network.
So here we, the fans are, stuck in the crossfire between the players and the owners, and we are once again the ones that are losing. First it was a game. Now it is our TV coverage.
But the more important question that this writer has for Commissioner Kurz… How can this league really be considered to be going in the right direction? This is the biggest labor dispute that the AFL has had, arguably ever, but certainly in over a decade. Week 1 was essentially the first time that we ever had two sets of scab teams playing against each other. Last week was the first time that the league ever had a game end via forfeit. Average attendance is down to 7,610, over 600 fans per game fewer than last year and over 500 fans per game fewer than in 2010. Several of the best markets that the league has to offer, including Arizona, Chicago, Cleveland, and New Orleans have watched their attendance figures get slashed by at least 15% from 2011 to 2012, and we won't even mention the fact that the Pittsburgh Power's best home game this year of 7,094 would have been the second worst home game last year.
Think the quality of play is going up? Hmm… Neither do I. There have already been 33 different starting quarterbacks in the league this year, and by my count, the only ones that had to get replaced in the starting lineup due to injury have been Erik Meyer, Bill Stull, and Omar Jacobs. Last year, there were 56 games that finished with a margin of victory of 17 points or greater, including the playoffs. That's 33.1% of all games. There have already been 41 games this year with that same margin of victory, and that translates out to 39.4% of all games (39.8% if you take out the Pittsburgh/Orlando Week 1 debacle that should be stricken from the record books).
Play is sloppier as well. There have been 476 turnovers this year, an average of 4.6 turnovers per game. Last year, there 729 total turnovers, 4.5 per game. In 2011, there was an average of 17.5 penalties per game. This year? Try 23.5 penalties per game.
So in the end, we sit and wait, watching our AFL that we continue to hear is "going in the right direction," even though we can plainly see that it is anything but. And now, on "Friday Night Football on Saturday Night," we are going to see the Tampa Bay Storm take on the Orlando Predators… If the players show up.
This writer yearns for the day that all of the bickering with the players and the owners is said and done with. That way, at least we shouldn't have to ask the question any longer as to whether the players are going to show up to the games or not.
At least then, Commissioner Kurz will really be able to say that we have taken one step in the right direction.