Monday, February 21, 2011

How will you react to an NFL work stoppage?

The Pittsburgh Steelers just finished a great 2010 season. It didn't end like Steeler fans would have hoped, but it was pretty tremendous nonetheless.

The NFL has never been more popular. The Steelers and Packers just competed in the highest rated Super Bowl in league history and even though there have been many public relations fiascoes in recent years such as Spygate and the Ben Roethlisberger sexual assault allegations, there is no doubt that football is America's sport and its popularity grows every year.

However, there is a growing concern among NFL fans because the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the owners and players is set to expire on March 3rd and it looks like we might be without NFL football for some time. How much time? That's anyone's guess. It could be a mere week or two or it could stretch way into the 2011 season depending on how far apart the two-sides are with regards to dividing up their revenue pie.

My question is: If there is a work stoppage, how will you react? Will you get fed-up and turn away from the game?

I suspect that most diehard football fans won't give up on their beloved sport, but everytime there is a work stoppage in a professional sports league, there are some people that walk away and never come back.

There are people that gave up on baseball after the 1994 players' strike that ultimately canceled the World Series that year and stretched all the way into the 1995 season. That was 17 years ago and people still haven't forgiven baseball for that.

I've even heard some hockey fans continue to complain about the 2004 lockout and that was probably the best thing to ever happen to that league in terms of competitive balance.

I guess some people are just very unforgiving when it comes to high-paid professional athletes and billionaire owners fighting over how to divide up their huge chunk of change.

It's millionaires and billionaires fighting over money and it just turns some people off, but if you're a true fan of a sport, how can you let a work stoppage ruin it for you for the rest of your life?

If you're really a true fan, no amount of time should be enough to ruin it for you. Even if an entire season is lost.

I know labor disputes in professional sports seem unreasonable when the average sports fan can't even imagine making that kind of money, but anytime you have a union and a CBA, you have to expect work stoppages from time-to-time, even if the members of the union make 7 figures a year and their bosses make 10 figures.

Since I've been following the NFL, I've witnessed two work stoppages, in 1982 and 1987, and the regular season was compromised in both cases. Yet, the only thing I remember feeling when I heard that play would resume was joy.

I didn't care that the 1982 season was reduced to 9 games, I was just happy to have the NFL back. I didn't mind that the NFL used replacement players for three games during the 1987 strike, I cheered for those replacement Steelers and I cheered for the regular Steelers after they came back. It didn't bother me one bit.

Some people will say, "These are people playing a game and they're getting paid millions of dollars for it. There should be no work stoppages. I could go out there and play that game just like those guys."

No you couldn't.

I find it funny that people are so quick to begrudge professional athletes their money for playing a game, but nobody bats an eye when actors and actresses charge $20,000,000 a film for their services.

I go to the movies all the time. I'm pretty funny and entertaining; I could do what Bradley Cooper does; I could kiss Jennifer Aniston.

No I couldn't.

Why? Because the actors you see on the silver screen are highly trained and they're the best in the world at what they do. Same goes for professional athletes playing a game at the highest level. They're highly trained and even the benchwarmers are among the best in the world at their position.

If someone is willing to pay them the kind of money they want, more power to them.

Now, if you're concerned about the league structure being hurt by a work stoppage, I'm right there with you.

During the '94 baseball strike, the one thing a lot of fans of small market teams like the Pirates were hoping and praying for was a salary cap. We knew that there was a disparity in revenues between the large market and small market franchises and the only thing that could keep the league competitive was a cap. Well, the strike lasted a long time, the World Series was canceled, but the owners caved into the players and there was no salary cap.

Baseball has gotten worse since then, at least in terms of competitive balance. If you walked away from baseball because they didn't fix what was broken, I agree with that. Baseball has never been the same to me since, but not because there was a work stoppage, but because the end result was the Pirates having no chance to compete.

If this labor dispute isn't just about dividing up revenues, if it's about changing things that would hurt competitive balance, if the end result is fixing what wasn't broken in the first place, I might be a little concerned. But by all accounts, it's simply about revenue and the owners wanting a bigger chunk of it.

If that's the case, then it's none of my business. Let them fight about who gets what. Just work it out and eventually give me football again. Even if I have to wait a year for it, it won't matter.

I've been a fan of the NFL for 31 years and I'm not about to let a little work stoppage ruin it for me. I'm a lifer.

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