Tuesday, NFL owners met in Chicago to discuss the latest details of the labor negotiations with the players (and to try to work out their own internal differences). Unless NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can unite them and reach a deal with players ASAP, it's looking as though, at the very least, NFL training camps will be missed.
For many NFL fans, summer training camp is as close as they'll ever get to their favorite teams. From late July through mid-August, NFL teams leave the big city to take over nearby small towns, providing an oft-needed economic boost. For instance, for the past 45 years, the Minnesota Vikings descend on Mankato, which is 90 minutes south of the Twin Cities. And when they do, they bring with them around 60,000 Vikings fans, which is just a bit more than the population of the entire city. More importantly, these 60,000 Vikings fans reportedly bring in about $5 million to the area, according to the Greater Mankato Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Or take Anderson, Indiana, which last year saw 80,000 Colts fans come to town, generating a reported $6.5 million for the local economy.
For many NFL fans, these training camp trips are an annual tradition. And from Mankato to Flagstaff to Spartanburg, if the lockout continues, there are going to be a lot of empty hotel rooms, dining tables and bar stools. And in this economy, that might even mean the end of some small businesses. (All while NFL owners and players fight over how to split up $9 billion.)
So in Minnesota, the Vikings have set a July 18 deadline to decide whether to make the trip to Mankato. Given the current state of labor talks, there's a strong chance that deadline will not be met. While there had been a couple weeks of cautious optimism that a deal would be struck, reports came out last week that the talks "almost blew up" on Tuesday.
From the beginning of the labor dispute, the NFL and most in the media have failed to consider or examine the economic impact of a work stoppage on our NFL cities -- and that certainly includes the cities and towns that play host to NFL training camps.
It's now time for the mayors of these towns to speak up and for the citizens to make some noise. Unfortunately, there continues to be a belief among many who might be affected that the owners and players will work it out.
"We're not too worried, actually," said Bob Bledsoe, who owns a sports bar in St. Joseph, Mo., where the Kansas City Chiefs train. "Last year was exciting. It was a lot of fun, and we would miss that. But we're pretty confident that the NFL and players will work it out."
Problem is, they don't always work it out. Consider what the New York Times wrote about a possible Major League Baseball strike in 1994:
Some owners don't think the players would strike because they wouldn't want to forgo their large salaries. But the owners have made that mistake in previous negotiations. In 1981, Ray Grebey, their chief negotiator, told the owners the players wouldn't strike because they wouldn't give up their pay. When they struck, he told them they'd be back as soon as they missed their first paycheck. Fifty days later, the strike ended when the owners ran out of strike insurance.
How long were Major League Baseball players willing to "forgo their large salaries?"
In 2004, NHL players were willing to be locked out for the entire season rather than give in to owners' demands.
So NFL fans and local businesses and workers need to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. This lockout could drag on for many more months and lead to missed weekends of football this fall. At that point, the damage to local economies in cities hosting training camp will seem like peanuts.
Brian Frederick is the Executive Director of Sports Fans Coalition. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.