NFL Not Scrimping As Draft Begins A bright spot in the economy: Several score of young men will become millionaires this weekend — in the National Football League draft. First-round picks will almost certainly receive seven- and eight-figure contracts. But will hard economic times make owners pare down their payrolls by offering smaller salaries?

NFL Not Scrimping As Draft Begins

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

A bright spot in the economy: several score of young men will become millionaires today - in the National Football League draft. First-round picks will almost certainly receive seven- and eight-figure contracts, and I'm not talking about ice-skating.

But will hard economic times make owners pare down their payrolls by offering their stars smaller salaries? Will cows ever fly?

We're pleased to be joined now by Leigh Steinberg. He's probably the most famous sports agent and attorney in America. He's represented quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Steve Young and Troy Aikman, boxing champions Lennox Lewis and Oscar de la Hoya. Of course, Mr. Steinberg is reportedly also the inspiration for Jerry McGuire, that sports agent character portrayed by Tom Cruise, who's not nearly as handsome.

Leigh Steinberg joins us from member station KUCI in Irvine, California. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. LEIGH STEINBERG (Sports Agent, Lawyer): Good day.

SIMON: Mr. Steinberg, you've represented the number one pick in the NFL draft eight times, right?

Mr. STEINBERG: I have, and about 60 first-round draft picks overall.

SIMON: Bankers and automakers and millions of Americans are making less money than they used to. Will football players?

Mr. STEINBERG: Not for the immediate future. We have not seen the economic reverses in sports that have been present in the catastrophic economic collapse in other parts of the economy. The largest revenue source in professional football is television. Those contracts are locked in for years to come.

While it's intuitive to think major product categories like automotive could be hit, we have seen no evidence of the cancellation of season tickets or sponsors backing away, and the good times are still rolling.

SIMON: But aren't some of the sponsors, at least traditional sponsors, going out of business or bankruptcy at any rate?

Mr. STEINBERG: Well, they are, but other people are taking their places. For example, the Super Bowl charged a record-high $3 million for 30-second spots. And basically they all were sold. There may be some adjustments to come but we haven't seen it really hit yet.

SIMON: So, if an owner says to you, look, I've got six unsold skyboxes and who knows if the beer companies will still be in business, what do you say?

Mr. STEINBERG: Well, one of the things that's a little different about professional football is that there are only ten home games. So, unlike baseball, that's got to sell 81 home games, it's almost like selling ten concert seats, ten dates. So, we're looking at fixed income coming from television, sold out stadia, sold out luxury boxes, fixed naming rights.

So, the income and revenue is locked in. And we'll see what will occur next year. So, even if there were minor alterations, the basic economic base of football is set. And even if there were to be minor adjustments in salary, the players would hardly notice.

SIMON: Matthew Stafford of Georgia to the Detroit Lions, number one pick?

Mr. STEINBERG: The team with the number one pick will try to get that signing done. The key to winning in professional football is the franchise quarterback. There's no position more critical, no position harder to find. And done correctly, that pick becomes Troy Aikman, John Elway, Peyton Manning, someone that a franchise can be built around, someone that's got the capacity to take a team to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl.

Now, just drafting that player's not enough because then he's got to be woven very efficiently into the fabric of a team. And because of blogs, talk radio, the instant analysis that will brand that player a bust instead of allowing him to have some developmental time makes it a very, very tricky process. But done correctly, it can be the absolute building block that makes a franchise move to the top of the pack.

SIMON: Leigh Steinberg, president of Leigh Steinberg Sports and Entertainment, joining us from Irvine, California. Mr. Steinberg, thanks so much for your time.

Mr. STEINBERG: My pleasure.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.