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Hobson's Choice: Numbers game

Hi Geoff,

I was just wondering what you thought about the owners and revenue sharing. Do you think they will work something out so a new CBA can be negotiated? Also, do you think the Bengals will ever sell the naming rights to PBS?

I know the Bengals are a smaller market team, but they are now selling out games and to my knowledge have very little debt. I know teams like Houston and Cleveland as new franchises were charged millions for the teams. So, I am guessing the Bengals are close to the middle as far as net revenue goes? Can you offer any insight to what is going on?


Brian Columbus, OH


I have noticed that Randy Moss is now wearing #18 and Roy WIlliams of the Lions wears #11. Why can wide receivers wear jersey numbers not in the 80's all of a sudden and yet David Pollack can't wear #47? I thought that Keyshawn Johnson had been grandfathered in as the last player to have this exception but now I see Moss, Williams and now Braylon Edwards wearing #17?


Let's knock off a couple of questions about some big numbers. You know your team is having a good offseason when the most controversial thing it does is hand out a uniform number. But there is also that very current controversy simmering intramurally with the big numbers of the NFL owners.

Even though the Bengals are selling out, they are still in the lower third of NFL revenue and are making below the league average. That puts them squarely in the small-market camp of the war that is brewing between big-market clubs and small-market clubs. In order for the owners to get a deal with the NFL Players Association and beat the 2007 expiration date of the collective bargaining agreement, they first have to get a deal among themselves concerning revenue sharing.

According to, the teams share about 60 percent of the $5.5 billion that the league generates in total revenues. But it is the percentage of money from luxury suites, club seats, concessions and parking, local radio and television, sponsorships, advertising and stadium and training complex naming rights that is unshared and of which the players want a piece.

They'll get it, but owners like the Bengals' Mike Brown argue that the big-market teams have to share more revenue in order to keep the small-market teams competitive because they simply don't have the revenue streams of big cities. The big guys don't want to break up their empires. Len Pasquarelli of summed up the struggle in his vignette comparing a new era owner in Houston's Bob McNair and old guard Ralph Wilson in Buffalo:

McNair spent $700 million to buy the Texans and is paying $40 million per year in interest on the debt.

"We paid a big price to buy [into] a big market," McNair said in Pasquarelli's story last week from the most recent owners' meeting, "and that's a consideration we have to keep in mind. If you take most of the high-income teams and subtract the debt service, the difference isn't quite as substantial as it's made out to be."

But Wilson can't stand it when big-market owners hint they work harder than he does and that they market their teams more efficiently. Pasquarelli points out that Wilson is in a city with a declining population, and has to promote the Bills in Western New York and Canada while contending his club doesn't have as many chances to make money as Jerry Jones in Dallas, the Maras in New York, or Daniel Snyder in Washington D.C.

"They want to knock us down and have us get up at the count of nine, so they can have another fight and knock us down again," is Wilson's quote on the big-market guys.

Since Brown is no longer talking publicly, fans are missing some of that blunt old-school eloquence that he is no doubt doling out in the hallways of what has turned into these tense monthly owners' meetings to get the thing hammered out.

But he's got company. Wilson, Jacksonville's Wayne Weaver, Indianapolis' Jim Irsay, even Oakland's Al Davis are making the noises Brown has been making for years. Pittsburgh's Dan Rooney, who has been commissioner Paul Tagliabue's link to the old guard, is also looking for some good old fashion compromises.

It's a struggle that crystallizes the transformation of a league once dominated by family-owned teams who made football their lives into another slick corporation of billionaires making the game just part of their portfolios. Can the two live together? This is the big test.

Brown has never strayed away from football as his business. He's not dumping money into jets or software or oil. The money is going to outside backers and video equipment. But is there going to be enough if the cap keeps growing at billionaires' prices?

The Bengals get ripped in a lot of NFL circles for not selling the name of the stadium, and keeping it Paul Brown Stadium. I think their point is that they can't haul down what Jones can get in Dallas or Snyder can get in Washington for naming rights because of the disparity in market size.

Besides, in my mind (and I think in Mike's too), I think it's a breath of fresh air in a stifling maze of Minute Maid Parks and FedEx Fields. (Where exactly are those places, anyway?) Why not name the thing after a guy who never took a dime to sell his name instead of some God forsaken debauchery like 3Com Park or M&T Bank Stadium? That has to be worth something, or does even decency have to have a bottom line?

Brown bristles when he hears owners like Jones insinuate that he shouldn't let Brown live off the sweat of his marketing. Since the stadium opened, the Bengals have more than doubled their marketing department. But, they argue, they can't double the size of the market. I can't ever see them taking the name off the stadium. But from lobbying for a new stadium to hiring Marvin Lewis, Brown has proven he'll do what he'll have to do to stay competitive, and there could be other solutions.

This will get figured out. Everyone in the NFL has too good of a thing going for there to be a strike. Plus, the NHL and NBA are still barely breathing and living examples of what not to do. The NFL has too many men who have gone through the wars, men like Brown Rooney, Mara, Wilson, and Lamar Hunt, not to get it done. At some point, The New Breed, the Krafts, the Joneses, the Blanks, will listen because it will hurt the portfolio if they don't.

But the larger question for Cincinnati is how much will a small market be damaged or helped in the resulting negotiations.

As for the numbers we'd all rather talk about the jersey numbers here is the gospel according to Bengals equipment manager Rob Recker:

The NFL has revised its uniform rule to say that if a team already has all their numbers in the 80s taken, wide receivers can wear numbers in the teens. Since tight ends have to wear a number in the 80s, and with teams keeping three and four tight ends, the 80s are disappearing like Pac Man.

But, the same rule doesn't apply to linebackers. They have to wear numbers in the 50s or 90s. We've received a few e-mails absolutely enraged over the fact that the Bengals gave Pollack No. 99.

I mean, why? Is it the Jason Buck-Dan Wilkinson-first-round-bad-karma? It's a catchy number. It will sell in stores and on-line. It looks good billowing in the breeze at a Third Street souvenir stand 90 minutes before kickoff. Besides, as Recker and his assistant Jeff Brickner say, "It's the man that makes the number, not the other way around."

Don't look for rookie center Eric Ghiaciuc to keep No. 69 even though he wore it at Central Michigan. For one thing, it used to belong to legendary nose tackle Tim Krumrie and they'd probably like to keep it clean if they can. Plus, the league prefers that centers wear numbers in the 50s. Rich Braham began life as guard and has kept. No. 74.

It will be interesting to see if rookie wide receiver Chris Henry gets to keep No. 15. He wore No. 5 at West Virginia and, as everyone knows, No. 85 is taken.

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