Tailgating, Sacks and Salary Caps
Mark Yost
Kaplan Publishing, 2006
Out of print – available secondhand

The primary purpose of Mark Yost’s Tailgating, Sacks and Salary Caps is to explain how the NFL managed to remain so competitive while also becoming one of the world’s most financially successful leagues in the world. Yost identifies three main reasons:

1. The draft, in which college talent is distributed to NFL teams by allowing last year’s least successful team to pick first, while the Super Bowl winner picks last. Thus, if teams choose wisely, talent is distributed to the teams with the greatest need.

2. The salary cap, which places a limit on how much teams are allowed to spend on paying their players. However much revenue a team generates – and there are large discrepancies between the top and bottom teams in the NFL – there is a limit to how much they can exploit their advantage on the field.

3. The revenue sharing agreement which ensures that every team in the league receives an equal share of TV money and merchandising revenue, for example. Though not all revenue is shared, this goes some way to ensuring that the gap between the richest and poorest in the league doesn’t get too big.

The secret is that the NFL is designed to achieve success for all teams, which are competing with each other on the field but with other sports off the field.

As Yost frequently points out, this collective approach makes the NFL sound like a very socialist operation. He mentions that fact a lot, so it’s funny to read the introduction in which Jack Kemp – a former player and former Congressman – rails against those who say the league is “socialistic”.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” writes Kemp, giving the impression that he didn’t bother reading the book at all.

Still, political nuances aside, Yost does a good job of explaining some very complex issues. The chapter on stadiums is particularly good. Yost explains how some teams have been adept at getting a taxpayer-funded stadium, in whole or in part, by threatening to leave town if they don’t get their way.

But Yost provides strong evidence to suggest that a football stadium isn’t a good deal for local authorities; they don’t come close to getting their investment back. Not only that but, Yost shows, having an NFL team in your city doesn’t bring much financial benefit in the first place.

In San Diego and Oakland, where teams have recently left – or are about to leave – legislators might take comfort in that. However, clearly, the cities of Los Angeles and Las Vegas have not paid attention. There will always be fans somewhere who will pressure cities to spend taxpayers’ money on what Yost calls “welfare for billionaires”.

Elsewhere, Yost breaks down how an NFL salary works – the figures have dated but the principles are still worth reading – as well as the value of merchandising and the Super Bowl.

It’s a short book – 250 pages – and its weakness is that Yost often leaves questions unanswered when a little elaboration would help. He also repeats himself a lot. You’ll be told many, many times about how important the 2006 Collective Bargaining agreement was in safeguarding the league’s future – it comes up in almost every chapter. Furthermore, that CBA has since been superseded by the 2011 agreement and the looming 2020 renegotiation.

Overall, if you’re interested in the economic side of the NFL then this is a solid grounding.

Photo: Pete Sheffield


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