Mike Rowe, the host of the popular TV show “Dirty Jobs,” used to joke about employees in dangerous jobs by saying that “safety comes first.” According to him, this has never been true – otherwise they wouldn’t be doing these jobs to begin with. Mr Rowe’s point, at least in part, was to demonstrate that considerations other than safety were at stake, namely the profitable operation of the commercial enterprise concerned.
New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his recent injury support Mr. Rowe’s analysis. Mr. Rodgers, one of the greatest National Football League quarterbacks of all time, was unfortunately injured in the opening minutes of his first game with the Jets and will miss the remainder of the season.
His injury led some, including many players, to advocate for all NFL stadiums to have natural turf fields, rather than artificial turf surfaces like the one Mr. Rodgers was injured on.
I wouldn’t expect the complaints to prevail. And Taylor Swift may help explain why.
The National Football League Players Association has stated that a statistically higher number of injuries occur on turf fields compared to turf fields. The NFL disputes this characterization of the data. The parties have access to the same data because they jointly hire the organization that collects and analyzes injury data and also jointly hire the NFL’s musculoskeletal committee.
Even if the parties agreed that there were more injuries on turf, it would not mean the end of artificial turf. The reason should be obvious: money. Turf fields are expensive to maintain and can cost up to $1 million to replace in their entirety. Stadiums must carefully limit their use. Grass fields, on the other hand, are much more durable and available for other events.
What does this have to do with Taylor Swift? Ms. Swift’s most recent megatour included stops at 20 NFL stadiums. According to my calculations, 11 of these stadiums have artificial surfaces. They were able to host Ms. Swift — and other concerts and events — largely because of their turf fields, making millions in the process. Concerts, and the fans and equipment associated with them, destroy turf fields, often requiring the replacement of much (if not all) of the field. Clubs that have hosted Ms Swift on grass pitches have no doubt found the rewards worth it. But the less lucrative gigs might not have been worth it.
Concert revenue is not part of football-related revenue of which players receive 48 percent under the collective bargaining agreement. But players certainly benefit indirectly when their club owners (who typically own or control the stadiums in which the clubs play) are able to generate additional revenue. Money put into an owner’s pocket should translate into better wages, better facilities and better working conditions.
The increase in 2021 to a 17-game schedule instead of 16 games provides a useful analogy. Players were historically resistant to change due to increased wear and tear on their bodies. The league nevertheless explained to them that an additional game would mean an influx of hundreds of millions of additional dollars per year into the league. The players wanted their 48 percent of that pie and took it, getting a reduction in training sessions in exchange.
The concept of loss aversion is also useful here. If NFL players insisted on turf fields, the league and its clubs would present to players the possible economic loss of such a change. This would likely amount to tens of millions of dollars, if not more. Faced with these facts, players may well choose to continue receiving their current salaries and accept the risks associated with playing on artificial turf.