The 2010 NFL season is looming on the horizon, and many fans are rabidly awaiting its arrival.
But rumbling in the distance are the storm clouds that may likely change the course of NFL history—not necessarily for the better.
While fans don't want to think about it, the NFL owners are contemplating locking out the players in 2011.
Not a possibility, you say?
The NFL would lose to many fans by cancelling an entire season, you say?
Remember the 1994 World Series? Or the 2005 Stanley Cup?
Is Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League dead? No, and in fact, both have become stronger since those work stoppages as all of their fans who swore off the respective leagues have come back. And in the case of the NHL, when it returned to the ice, it brought an new version of the sport with it and has been adding fans with each progressive season.
Wouldn't the NFL's fans do the same? I believe the NFL owners are betting on that answer being a resounding "yes."
Consider the fact the the NFL owners are in no rush to settle this labor issue. The owners hope to have a new collective bargaining agreement with the players by March. They claim not to want a "work stoppage," but is that really the case?
The owners stand to earn $5 billion from their TV revenue deals whether the NFL plays a single down in 2011 or not. Having that in the bank will not force the owners' hands into a deal they do not want. And what the owners want is more of the money the NFL earns.
Players right now take in 60 percent of the league's revenue. The owners want a bigger cut of that pie as they claim the economy has changed. The league needs that money to generate more income across the board (or so their argument goes). Will the players' union talk its members into taking a collective pay cut?
Interestingly enough, federal authorities from the Department of Labor are right now investigating potential collusion claims regarding the NFLPA and the league.
A former employee of the players' union has submitted documents regarding alleged backroom deals and meetings between the league's front office and the heads of the NFLPA. What was detailed in those meetings is not known.
Potentially, those meetings concern the "enhancement" of the NFL, meaning the sought after 18-game regular season schedule.
This, my friends, is certain to become a reality. And I believe it will be the make-or-break demand of any "work stoppage."
Now, the NFL claims that turning the season into an 18-game long monstrosity will only earn its players more money. Odd, but right now the NFL's argument about its current labor state is effectively the opposite as the league repeatedly states that the players' 60 percent cut is too much.
So who will really profit from the addition of two regular season games a season? The owners, of course.
Will the owners shorten the pre-season if the league goes to an 18-game schedule? Not likely. Yes, the games are "meaningless" and only the most die-hard fans enjoy them, but what comes with those four games is a good deal of money.
Teams always force season ticket holders into buying tickets for those two preseason home games each year. You could argue that owners will get that back plus a bit more by adding an extra regular season game to the schedule, but why lose what you don't have to?
Perhaps more important, the individual teams are allowed to sell the TV rights to those preseason games on their own, meaning even more money tallies in the bank each August. What local TV network is going to pay the same amount for one game when they used to get two?
The "enhanced" 18-game season will further stretch out fans' interest and television ratings into the "sports wasteland" of February, benefiting their network partners as well. This is also why the NFL is considering adding permanent Thursday and Saturday games to its new-look schedule.
And if you think the league is worried about playing the Super Bowl later in February, then you obviously forgot that the league awarded New York City the game in 2014.
Bad weather affecting its crown jewel? The NFL doesn't care.
Nor do they seemed concerned with their players' health. It goes without saying that the enhanced season will take its toll on players, but according to the NFL, this will be off-set by their increased income.
The fact is, no NFL players is above the game. They are interchangeable parts in a much larger machine. If one breaks down (as will happen), another rises up to take that position. Nothing is lost.
Will the game on the field suffer because of this? No. In fact, it will bring even more of the NFL's beloved parity to the field. A healthy team is a strong team, but no team will remain healthy going into the latter stages of a season. Therefore, when the playoff push arrives, crazier scenarios will occur and the fans will love seeing their 8-9 team having a shot at a playoff spot. The result: more fan interest.
What NFL fans will end up with is an entirely new league with more emphasis right where the league wants it.
Fans who enjoy the NFL draft will have to stick around to round seven as depth will matter more with more injuries.
Fantasy football players will have to dig deeper and care more about back-ups as injuries affect their rosters as well.
Team with losing records will be more likely to reach the playoffs, bringing bigger Cinderellas to the post-season dance.
All of this generates more interest, meaning more TV watching, higher ratings, and more money for the NFL. The league will not lose with this, and it knows it.
So get ready NFL fans, the league's got a worm dangling on a hook. Will you just nibble, or take a bite?
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