NFL players and owners have finally reached agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. It's been a long, painful process, but at least it's over. More importantly, there will be a full slate of games in 2011.
In the weeks and months before the lockout officially started in March, many had expected this labor agreement to result in at least the preseason being wiped out, with possibly a few regular season games missed, as well. But the fans made some noise -- tens of thousands signed our Save Next Season campaign and the NFLPA's Block the Lockout campaign -- and NFL owners likely realized they were about to kill the golden goose.
The silver lining of this lockout has been that it has exposed the way the NFL does business, and I'm not talking about rookie wage scales, salary caps or revenue sharing. I'm talking about the way it views its fans, or, more accurately, its customers. By forcing us all to see the way the sausage is made, NFL owners and players have allowed the fans to see that they are expected to be passive consumers, stuck at the mercy of the two sides.
So after nearly six grueling months of the 2011 NFL lockout, here's what fans can take away:
- The sports/media complex is stronger than ever. This shouldn't be surprising considering that ABC/ESPN, FOX, NBC and CBS are all broadcast partners with the league. And the print media cannot survive without the credentials the NFL doles out. What's important with regards to the sports media's coverage of the NFL lockout is not so much what they covered, but what they didn't cover. There were no serious investigations of what effect the lockout would have on local economies. No one held the owners' proverbial feet to the fire and asked them to explain putting their own profits above the best interests of our communities. (CBS even cut its lockout question from a Jerry Jones' 60 Minutes interview, despite being the "first thing fans want to know.")
- We've paid a HELLUVA lot for NFL stadiums. Thirty-one of the 32 NFL stadiums have received direct public subsidies. Ten of those have been fully publicly financed and at least 19 are 75 percent publicly financed. All told, we've kicked in over6.5 billion on NFL stadiums. And owners in Minnesota, the Bay Area and San Diego are asking for more. Don't be fooled -- NFL stadiums are glorified real estate scams, turning public tax dollars into private profits.
- Blackouts are totally unnecessary. The NFL doesn't need to blackout games in cities where fans can't afford the high price of tickets. But it does. WTF?
- The NFL lobbies Congress... big time. Since Roger Goodell took over in 2006, the NFL has opened up a Washington office and just last year, the NFL spent nearly 1.5 million lobbying Congress. More than anything, the NFL wants to protect its antitrust exemption when it comes to negotiating broadcast contracts, which enables them to make billions of dollars. Fans may not want the government involved in sports, but the NFL sure does.
- Stopping the business of the NFL can't even stop the business of the NFL. Thirty-one of 32 teams insisted -- even though there was a lockout, and thus, the possibility that there would be no football in the fall -- that fans pay for their season tickets. Only New York Giants owner Jon Mara was classy enough to say that fans shouldn't have to pay for tickets until owners and players figured out their dispute.
- NFL owners really, really, really don't want public ownership. There's absolutely no reason the public shouldn't be able to buy ownership stakes in NFL teams, a la the Green Bay Packers. The NFL rewrote its ownership rules after the Packers to prevent future public ownership, but their rules are just their rules. The NFLPA suggested ownership stakes in return for giving back revenues as a way to solve the lockout, but the NFL's chief lawyer told the NFLPA, "My clients don't want to be partners with your guys." It's about maintaining an exclusive club rather than what's best for the game. And that's effin' ridiculous.
- The lockout was not "for the fans." In the post-agreement pressers, the leaders of the NFL and NFLPA will say that this agreement is in the best interests of the fans. But make no mistake, this lockout and the subsequent agreement was about what is in the best interests of the owners and players. Sure, both sides will appease fans to the extent that fans continue to shell out every last dollar on tickets, merchandise and anything else they can sell. But it's that desire to make a dollar off fans that separates the owners and players from the fans.
- A united organization of fans can make a difference. Had there been an organization with millions of united sports fans, this lockout would have unfolded much differently. But unfortunately, fans are so used to being passive consumers on the sideline that they don't think they can make a difference. They can. You can. The AARP has united over 35 million seniors, just on the basis of their age. The NRA has united over 4 million gun owners. Both are political forces. How many sports fans are there? And what's stopping them from being a political force?
The 2011 NFL lockout may be over, but there is still a lot of important work to be done to make sure the NFL respects its fans. It can start by ending blackouts and personal seat licenses. And SportsFans.org will keep making noise.