The NFL is Not Socialist

Among the most annoying and wrong-headed memes of the past 12 months is the media mantra that the NFL is a socialist endeavor.

It’s nonsense that has been bandied about for some time, but came to the forefront a few months ago when Bill Mahr brought it up. At its core, the dialogue centers around the fact that the NFL shares revenue amongst the teams.  The purpose of the train of thought is to annoy conservatives. While I’m all for annoying conservatives, or anyone really, with a well placed dig, I myself get annoyed when the dialogue jumps the tracks and enters into the realm of the absurd.

Again yesterday, the issue surfaced on Twitter as the Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Journal engaged in a discussion with Scott Fujita about the issue. Mike Silver chimed in by relinking to a recent column in which he referred to NFL owners as communists.

I’m by no means the first person point out the logical flaws of these claims, but at least let me be the latest.

The NFL is not socialist.

The NFL is a cartel.

There is a massive difference.

Actually, if we wanted to be totally honest, all the NFL is is a business that was incorporated incorrectly. If the NFL could go back in time and see the future, they would probably organize themselves as a single business entity, thus avoiding all the labor problems they currently face. That’s not the organic way in which the league developed, however, and so it remains a coordinated group of individual businesses who mutual depend upon one another.

The problem with taking economic terms and applying them to sports leagues is that they generally don’t fit. Only in sports do two competing businesses actually fundamentally depend on each other for mutual existence. If there are no football teams but the New York Giants, there are no football teams period. Sports franchises, by virtue of the very nature of sports, require that there be other teams to play.

The sharing of revenue in no way makes the NFL socialistic. Socialism has an element of sharing involved, yes, but it also exists as a counter-weight to the concept of capitalism. The NFL is 100% a capitalistic endeavor. The owners of NFL have a shared goal of maximizing profits. They seek to make as much money as possible for themselves. They merely recognize that it’s impossible for one football team to exist by itself. There have to be multiple teams in order to have a viable product, in this case a league of professional teams.

A socialist enterprise seeks the economic good of the community as a whole. The NFL can ONLY be considered a form of socialism, if you consider the 31 NFL owners as complete self-contained community.

Of course, they are not. The fact is that the NFL also exists in an environment with front office workers, players, and coaches. The NFL also interacts with fans and municipalities and the federal government.  The NFL is not worried about the common good of any of those other parties. NFL owners are NOT a self-contained community, therefore they cannot be considered socialistic. They are a small group of businessmen coordinating their efforts to maximize profits by controlling labor costs and fixing prices.

By definition then, the NFL is a cartel.

A cartel, simply put is an arrangement among competitors to fix the cost of expenses and goods. It typically involves a small number of entrants and together the conspire to not act strictly in their own self-interest for the purpose of maximizing profit for the whole.

The NFL does not seek the economic good of everyone involved in the business of football. The reason they share profits is to create a better product that will allow them to collectively control the television market. They fiercely control labor costs in a way that is monopolistic, not socialistic.

The entire issue irritates me because it reduces complex economic concepts into meaningless slogans and tag lines. I will grant that many in the right deserve to have their noses tweaked. Too many people throw around the term ‘socialism’ ignorantly to refer to any government program they don’t like.  The solution, however, is not to continue to the perpetuate bad definitions and wrong headed notions about what the NFL is and how it operates.

The reason the word socialist is used is because it sounds more evil than ‘monopolistic’. Monopoly sounds like a guy in a tux and top hat is cruising around Boardwalk with his dog. Cartel sounds evil too, but that can only apply to drug dealers and is such a loaded word that many in the media hilariously cringed when the word was used in NFLPA briefs. Oh my gosh! They called the NFL a cartel! Such incendiary language!

Tongue in cheek or not, the moronic ‘the NFL is socialist so socialism can’t be all bad because everyone loves football!’ mantra has got to stop.

The NFL is much closer to Tony Montana than it is to Chairman Mao.