The owners overspent on unnecessary stadiums, and now they want the players to work more for less pay to help pay down the debt. That’s your entire labor dispute in one sentence.
That’s from the Mises blog, and the post is interesting throughout. The following is also important for understanding the NFL as government sanction and sponsored business entity:
The NFL is really two distinct products. There’s the in-stadium product represented by Jerry World and its taxpayer-financed brethren. And then there’s the way most people consume football, the television product produced by the major broadcast networks and ESPN. NFL-TV is a great product whose popularity remains high. NFL-Stadium is struggling to pay the mortgage.
Regardless of how this labor dispute plays out, the future of football has to be in NFL as TV (and internet video, i.e. ESPN3), rather than the stadium experience. I don’t find going to pro games all that enjoyable. I much prefer going to college games (or even baseball games, and I don’t really even like baseball); such games are typically a blast, largely because they are a much more personal experience. Indeed, the only thing I really like about going to a pro game in person is that I get a better angle with which to watch the game, and TV and internet video options are beginning to finally provide more options in this respect. At the end of the day, for the NFL, the TV experience, whether at home or in a bar, is really superior.
The NFL business model is bizarre and discussions with most people about the labor dispute quickly degenerate because of the complexity as they take up the slogans of one side or the other. The analysis is neither laissez-faire capitalism nor typical labor economics nor even a the economics of a regulated public utility; it’s some weird unknowable mixture of a cartel and consumer business, and that makes all of these disputes both fascinating and maddening.
It’s not really a shock that there is a strange labor dispute going on, unilaterally initiated not by the union but by the owners in a way that few can analyze satisfactorily. Indeed, count up the factors: (i) The NFL is heavily subsidized by the government, (ii) with respect to the players selling their services, it’s a monopsony, and (iii) for the rest of us (and with government and to a lesser extent court approval), it’s an oligopoly. Put together, that is unlikely to lead to an efficient market. In the end, most of us just want to see someone pick up the damn football and play.