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Art Modell & The Vision To Work Together

I was on twitter last night for the start of the "NFL Kickoff". The Cowboys were playing the Giants, and whipping boy Tony Romo was already trending on twitter after the first series, with the words "Damn Romo" reaching number three. Amazingly, this morning (after the Cowboys won) Romo is still trending.

Art Modell, long time owner of the Browns (and Ravens of course) passed away at age 87 yesterday. He never knew what twitter was for many of those years, but he's one of the reasons a quarterback could trend on it for 15 straight hours. 

In the 1960's the National Football League had some issues and it was mainly based on television. Pete Rozelle, the commissioner, had to convince the owners that television was the way of the future and that the only way the sport could grow was to work out a collective plan to exploit it for the leagues gain. The team owners were up in arms because at that time live gate was the major revenue driver for football. Owners - especially those in smaller cities - did not want to embrace this new medium in fear of losing their fan base.

Eventually Rozelle convinced these businessmen that the status-quo was not an option. The NFL was the first league to embrace television, creating NFL films, the Super Bowl and much more.

Fast forward several years. As television got bigger and bigger and the league and teams were making more and more money, there were the inevitable problems. Up popped revenue sharing. Rozelle had to convince 30 or so folks that sharing TV revenue would be good for everyone, and a boon for the league.

It worked. Multi-billion dollar TV deals have made the NFL the most successful sport in the western world. The power structure and revenue share allow small market teams like Green Bay to compete with the Giants on all levels.

In the words of Art Modell, Rozelle got "a bunch of fat cat republicans to become socialists".

Now let's think about this: How did a league worth millions upon millions with owners who possessed the ego the size of the federal deficit agree on something so large and fundamental to do what is right for everyone, not just a few? The easy answer is that they had a commissioner, but that's probably too easy. Each of those twenty five or so owners had to take a leap of faith, and being businessmen they're used to doing it. Leap they did.

Let's rewind to 1960, but apply our current structure in racing to it. Not only is there 25 or 30 owners of the AFL/NFL teams sitting around the table, but let's say each team has a player group associated with it. The players all have a seat and there is not one, but one for each team. As well, let's say they control 50% of all the revenues.

You probably have 100 people sitting around a table, all wanting to speak, with lawyers in tow, ready to fight. Would they have been able to get together to do what is right? Probably not. After an hour of it, Rozelle would probably quit and send in an application to work for the NBA.

In 2009 players are signing ten million dollar contracts due to the forward thinking that went on in the 1960's. Without that forward thinking they would probably be making a million a year, if they were lucky. NFL teams are now worth a billion bucks or more.

All with a little forward thinking, a structure that rewarded working together with vision, and strong leadership.

With billions of slot money hanging around in some states you'd think working towards some sort of vision and common good would be palatable. With the opportunities of having a near monopoly on internet wagering, you'd think we'd try to make it as easy as possible. With betting exchanges, new fractional bets, world wide common pooling, you'd think we'd move heaven and earth to get it done. But as we've seen for so long in racing, it's easier to fight and protect slices, rather than grow them.

Related: Modell Was Known For More Than the Move

Comments

Tinky said…
Excellent post.

And yes, I'll say it again: the American racing industry is a microcosm of broader American society. The politicians, corporations, and wealthy elite appear very likely to wait until the barbarians are at the gate before realizing that groping greedily for as much as they can might not be a recipe for a healthy society.