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Chicago Bears

Hub Arkush: London games help owners get richer, push players harder

Owners get richer while players work harder, get pushed further

The Bears' Akiem Hicks addresses the media during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on July 3 in London. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Bears face the Oakland Raiders on Sunday and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Oct. 13.
The Bears' Akiem Hicks addresses the media during the final tournament for the UK's NFL Flag Championship, featuring qualifying teams from around the country, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on July 3 in London. The new stadium will host its first two NFL London Games later this year when the Bears face the Oakland Raiders on Sunday and the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Oct. 13.

One demand the NFL players should be making for their new collective bargaining agreement to begin in 2021 is to do away with these ridiculous, in-season overseas trips that are designed to benefit no one and nothing other than the
32 team owners’ bank accounts.

NFL owners will argue that the importance of taking games to Europe and beyond is to grow the popularity of professional football around the world and to continue to grow the sport.

What the owners actually hope to accomplish is to grow the popularity of the game to the point where it can realize significant new revenue from broadcast rights, merchandise sales and sponsorship opportunities from a much larger potential audience – a wise business plan to be sure – but at what cost?

The problem is these games are ridiculously punishing for players, coaches and staff, most of whom never will share proportionately in the increased revenue they generate – in 2019, about 30% of the players’ share of revenue will be paid out to about 10% of the players who earn the highest salaries – while each of the team owners will collect one-thirty-second, or 3.1%, of every new dollar raised.

Bears coach Matt Nagy spoke Thursday about some of the difficulties teams face in making these trips.

“Essentially when we leave tonight, whenever that is, 6 or
7 o’clock, you’ve got to add six hours right away.

“So I told them we’re leaving at midnight, right? So your body – you have to trick your mind into saying, “All right, it’s time to go to bed on the plane.” When you wake up, now it’s the morning.

“Well, it’s a little different and unique as now you have meetings, and then you have a practice later on in the day.

“The next part is spicing up the practice a little bit so you give them a little bit of energy.”

There is also the issue of players who are banged up from the season to date.

“That’s a good point,” Nagy said, “because the sleep is very important.

“But at the same time, even with guys with no injury with the swelling, whether it’s our players and coaches wearing those compression socks, just preventionwise, that’s a part of it. If you have somebody that has a lower leg injury and they’re sleeping, waking them up maybe and just letting them get up and walk around for circulation.”

Of course if you’re waking up guys to protect their circulation, then they’re not getting their sleep and ...

Asked how playing this game in London benefits his team in any way, Nagy said, “For me, it’s just more so being able to give back to the other countries and people that are outside of the U.S. That’s all a part of this thing. They helped this thing grow.”

Although you have to admire Nagy for trying to toe the company line, the reality is he’s wrong.

Fans in Europe have done next to nothing to help grow the NFL, and that’s why the owners are making their teams go now, to try to turn those folks into fans – and to get them to pay up for the privilege.

The truth is there is absolutely no upside from these trips for players and coaches as it relates to doing their jobs. They do stress the players physically and mentally, and in fact it punishes the league’s domestic fans who have made the NFL what it is today by creating games they are far less likely to be able to attend themselves.

If I go to Europe, I want to see Europe, not an American institution I can go see any Sunday at less than 10% of the price in dollars, time and aggravation I have to spend to see it in Europe.

The Bears are going to London for three days and will be expected to work almost the whole time they’re there in far more difficult conditions than they face at home.

Who does that and expects to be better off for the effort?

Team owners who will be off enjoying their three-day getaway, while their employees are being taxed just that much more to try to get paid.

• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at harkush@profootballweekly.com, and follow him on Twitter
@Hub_Arkush.

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