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George Atallah Headshot

Disputes Over More Money Should Not Hurt the Fans

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With the fight between Cablevision and FOX going from the boardroom to the living room, sports fans in New York are becoming collateral damage in a corporate battle that is keeping them from watching the World Series tonight and is denying them Giants football.

The Cablevision-Fox dispute is the latest example of media companies bickering over broadcast fees and using their viewers as leverage. Unfortunately, this trend is going to get worse over the next year as other industries, including the NFL, mimic the strategy.

Whether it's FOX withholding the World Series from Cablevision subscribers in an effort to extract higher fees for its programming or NFL owners trying to cancel the 2011 season unless their players make concessions, fans are being used as pawns in corporate disputes. Neither sports leagues nor networks should take their fans for granted.

The NFL Players Association thinks the fans should always come first. When fans are left helpless and unable to enjoy their teams, the "game" suffers.

The agreement that covers how NFL revenue is distributed (both between owners and player) expires next March. The NFL's owners are trying to cancel the 2011 season in order to get an edge at the negotiating table. The owners have adopted a hard-line strategy that entails locking the players out if they do not agree to certain terms. If the owners stick with this plan, they will be denying fans around the country football next year.

While a lockout would eliminate jobs in NFL markets throughout the country, the owners will continue to take TV revenue just as if games were still being played, including an estimated $700 million to $1 billion alone from their DIRECTV contract. How can they play such hardball? They will collect almost $4 billion in revenue while cutting all of their salary costs for players. Yes, the players lose. But so do fans and businesses.

The impact of a lockout would extend well beyond simply denying fans the ability to watch games on a certain cable system. There would be no games for any television provider to broadcast, devastating hotels, restaurants, stadium workers and small businesses -- the entire cottage industry that relies on football Sunday.

Green Bay business leaders, for example, estimate that a single Packers game pumps $5 million into the Green Bay economy. In Buffalo, a 2009 review by the city shows that a full-season lost would cost the city $140 million and thousands of jobs.

The City Council of Kansas City is so concerned about an owner lockout that it passed a resolution this year that stated, "if the owners make good on their threat to cancel the 2011 season, stadiums across the country will sit empty resulting in no games for fans, jobs for stadium workers, customers for restaurants, hotels and vendors and tax revenue for city and state governments, particularly Kansas City."

NFL players recognize that playing professional football is a privilege that is made possible by the fans. They also recognize that football is a business that supports the livelihood of thousands of middle class Americans trying to make ends meet.

The players want to play and would rather extend the current agreement -- as they have done five times. We even offered to play under the current agreement -- than deny fans a 2011 football season. Fans should never be used as leverage and the NFL Players are working to keep that from happening.

The result of corporate interests attempting to hold fans hostage during labor disputes will likely cause significant damage to the loyalty and dedication of millions of Americans who watch football every week. It is our hope that this can be avoided through common sense and a common recognition that it is the fans that make the game successful.

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