Though I’m still somewhat confused as to public-sector unions in Wisconsin, I do have some strong opinions on how policy-makers should tackle the NFL labor dispute. Step 1 is to repeal the NFL’s anti-trust exemption. Step 2, use anti-trust law to break the NFL into 8 separate leagues, based on existing divisions. Allow the 8 leagues to co-ordinate in developing schedules, including play-offs, but don’t allow them to collude on questions of expansion and contraction. Step 3, use anti-trust law to prevent NFL teams from owning football stadiums. Step 4, ban public funding of football stadiums. Step 5, repeat steps 1-4 for the other professional sports leagues.
The result of these changes, I believe, would be thus: The number of NFL teams would increase from 32, to somewhere between 50 and 100. Major markets like New York, LA and Chicago would grow from 3 to ~10 teams between them; many minor markets like Portland and Austin would grow from zero to one team; and middle market teams like Dallas, Washington and Denver would grow from 1 to 2 teams, which would share stadiums. Individual leagues would relax ownership rules, in order to attract new owners. Existing team values would drop. Player salaries would drop. Ticket prices would drop. Employment would rise. Quality of play would initially drop, but most fans wouldn’t notice. Over time, innovation–both in business management and football strategy–would increase.
This is, of course, a fairly drastic policy change. It would upset a number of powerful lobbies, including NFL owners, NFL players, the NCAA–which would face increased competitive pressure, and traditionalist sports fans–who want to compare Peyton Manning to Fran Tarkenton, even though they play highly different games. However, the policy consequences listed above are both fiscally prudent (increasing employment, ending subsidies to sports teams) and highly progressive (transferring wealth from rich players and owners to poorer unemployed athletes and fans). That is, these policy changes should be broadly supported by the bases of both major political parties. And while I don’t expect any of these changes to occur soon–any serious threat of Step 1 alone would lead to a quick resolution of the current negotiation–I do expect them to happen eventually.