I'm still piecing together my thoughts about the potential for a lockout in 2011. Obviously I'm not interested in seeing the owners and NFLPA engage in a drawn out, nasty negotiation process, and like any fan in their right mind, I dread the thought of no pigskin on Sundays in the early fall. Hell, the impending March deadline to work a new deal out has made my life difficult already as I try to assess what the Steelers might do with their various free agents. That said, I have a theory that I ran by a few people down in Dallas at the Super Bowl. Basically I think it might not ultimately be such a bad thing for us fans if there was a lockout and missed games in 2011. Why? Well, of all the major sports leagues, the NFL in my opinion does the least to reward and engage fans. For me personally, a lockout might bring about greater access to the teams and players, just to name one example of how the league might try to make amends for their greedy bickering. Anyway, I try to add something fresh to the narrative, so you're not going to see me really just cry and moan about the possibility of a lockout. Nor are you going to see me expend a lot of time and energy with things like petitions. Sorry, that won't get us anywhere.
What will make a difference though if there are missed games is a concerted, organized effort by fans to not watch the games live on television even if just for a few short weeks. Look, not to compare this to the very serious and consequential events happening in the Middle East, but the reason successful revolutions took hold in Tunisia and Egypt is simple: people acted; they put their money where their mouth is so to speak and demanded change. I personally see no way that us fans will ever really be accounted for in the negotiation process until we've proven that we're capable of putting our money where our mouth is and show some discipline by not watching the games live. Sounds ridiculous, but what harm would it really be to read about the games for a month on the internet and settle for just the highlights online. Or, how hard would it be to get a group of ten friends and have just one of you DVR the game. The other nine don't tune in. Then after the game's over, you get together and watch as a big group, skipping through the commercials and seriously stunting the networks' ratings. Not very hard, and seriously, that's the only thing that would scare some sense into the NFL. Because the TV deals are the driving force behind all this insane amount of money the two sides are fighting over.
I suppose by then it would be too late to influence their behavior, but I'd still advocate that measure by us fans as a stern reminder that we were incredibly disappointed by what happened this spring and summer. Come to think of it though, the best way to send an early message might be to not watch the 2011 NFL Draft. I feel obliged to watch, but let's face it, it's pretty damn boring to begin with and I'd have no problem waiting until the picks were posted on the internet somewhere. Tens of millions of us tune in to the Draft in recent years. And what do you know, the NFL has found a way to extract as much TV money from that as possible, drawing the event out in primetime over two days, with God knows how many commercials squeezed in between the picks. How about we resist and put a serious dent into the ratings of this year's Draft. If we all tune in, the NFL will just continue laughing all the way to the bank, whereas if their ratings were slashed dramatically, maybe they'd get the message that we're the true driving force in this industry. No TV audience, no NFL as we know it today.
Anyway, Ryan Clark, the NFLPA player rep for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sees it the same way. At least the part about the TV deals being the Ace in the Hole that the owners possess over the players. It's pretty simple. Remarkably simple in fact: there's zero reason for the owners to be in a hurry to get a deal done. At least not in a timely manner. Why? Because they're all going to get paid beaucoup bucks again in 2011 regardless of there being games or not. Sure, they'd lose ticket revenue, but they'll all be dividing the same insanely large pie of money from the league's massive television contracts.
Let that sink in. Game or no games, all 32 owners still see their pockets lined with television money. So why would they rush even one iota this spring and summer? Why would they make any serious concessions to the players when they just have to patiently wait until the NFLPA caves on just about everything? That's what will happen though. Players will lose their insurance and paychecks, and subsequently panic while the owners just sit back and know that at worst they're still going to have a very profitable year from TV money.
Clark talked about this and other topics relating to the potential lockout during an in-studio appearance with The Morning Show on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh. Here's what he had to say about owners having TV money to fall back on:
When you make deals with networks that say we’re going to pay you even if you don’t play. So what’s my incentive to play when if I’m not playing, I cut my biggest overhead out which is my players, and I’m still going to make my money. So you tell me if there’s any rush for them to feel like they have to have football.
You'll be glad to know that Clark did plenty of Roger Goodell bashing throughout the segments. Here's his pessimistic view of how Goodell can't be viewed as someone who's working for and with both sides:
And with so many players and so few owners, so as the owners, you can get 32 owners together and Roger Goodell — who claims he works for us but when it came up time for him to renew his job, nobody called me, nobody was like hey Ryan is it cool, is this the guy you want? So clearly he doesn’t work for us. I don’t have his cell phone number. I have D Smith’s cell phone number because he works for us. I don’t have Roger’s. Maybe he’ll call me after this because he’s mad at me and make me come to New York or something. I just think it’s a sad deal because it’s not going the way anybody wants it. There’s no way we can back down and give them what they want, and it don’t seem like they want to give us what we want. So I’m going to be a stay-at-home dad and do radio and TV.
Clark did state early on that he thinks there's time for a reasonable agreement to be reached before the scheduled start of the '11 season. Obviously nothing's happening before March, but because there's then six months to get something done between March and September, that's more than enough time for sides to hammer something out.
Clark finished by talking about a potential X-factor in all of this: a certain Ambassador to Ireland named Dan Rooney....Big Rooney as the players call him. Clark was actually asked if he thinks Art Rooney III might be able to play an integral role in the negotiations like other Rooneys did in previous labor talks. Clark didn't downplay Art's ability to help broker a deal, but it was Dan Rooney's incomprable reputation that was more likely to play a big role in bringing the two sides together:
"Art can definitely step into that role, but Mr. Rooney is definitely still there. It’s not a situation where Mr. Rooney is gone and out of the picture to the point where Art can assume all that power that Mr. Rooney has. The respect is still going to go to…we call him Big Rooney…to Ambassador Rooney. And he knows it. I think Mr. Rooney partly knows that he has to settle this, he’s the voice of reason, he’s the voice that is respected on both sides. But you become the voice of reason because doing things in a way that’s fair for everyone. It’s not a situation where he wants the owners to get everything, but he’s also not going to let the owners be duped, he’s not going to let the owners be taken advantage of. But he does the same for the players…It’s about, come on guys, it’s about revenue sharing. But they feel like they’re not going to win that battle. So you try to fight the battle that you feel that you can win, which is against the players. Some of them don’t budget their money right, some of them haven’t had long enough careers to have enough money to sustain through a whole year of no football. Whereas owners, first of all they’re rich. But also as owners we’re going to get paid whether there’s football or not. So that’s where I feel like they think they can win because they know they’re not going to get the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars to say we don’t want revenue sharing. They’re not going to win that battle. So we feel like, you fight the battle you can win and that’s against us. So the biggest thing — we have our NFLPA meetings in March — is everyone as much as we can, if they get this type of forum, they need to be able to talk about it intelligently."