SBD/September 9, 2010/NFL Season Preview

Prospect Of A Lockout In '11 Looms Over The Start Of NFL Season

Goodell (l), Smith Face March Deadline To Reach New CBA Before Current Deal Expires

The prospect of a work stoppage in '11 is "looming over the NFL" as the '10 season kicks off tonight, "casting a dark shadow and making unpleasant whirring noises," according to George Vecsey of the N.Y. TIMES. The league is "lurching toward economic reality, with its labor contract ending after this season." The most recent valuations from Forbes shows that team values dropped 2% in the past year, a report the NFL is "hardly disagreeing with." NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello said, "We are facing different economic realities than we have in prior years. For the most part, these new realities reflect a significant increase in costs, including the cost of building, maintaining and operating stadiums." Vecsey noted the league also is "heading toward a season of considerable gamesmanship." The owners recently "agreed that an 18-game schedule would be better than the current 16-game schedule, after Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted that fans ... resented the scam of paying full prices for four exhibitions." NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith in response said that he is "not prepared to give up anything, but that two games could be negotiated for salaries, health care and fewer off-season minicamps." Dialogue between Smith and Goodell "will be with us all season" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/5). Smith earlier this week said, "I still feel that a lockout is coming in March" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 9/8).

LOOK WHO'S TALKING: FOXSPORTS.com's Alex Marvez noted Goodell "believes negotiations between the two sides will intensify as the CBA expiration deadline approaches." But unless a "deal can be reached, the running clock on the NFLPA’s web site says a lockout will occur on March 1, 2011" (FOXSPORTS.com, 9/6). Goodell said, "Talks are going on. We have a lot of work to get done. There is still sufficient time to do that, but there’s really a window here. This deal is going to be easier to make between now and March. Once we get to March it just becomes more complicated and more difficult. We really need to work hard in the next several months to get something that works." The commissioner also addressed why reaching a deal for a new CBA becomes more difficult in March, noting, "When you have a loss of revenues, there’s less money for us to negotiate over. That’s always a harder situation for anyone to negotiate in. We think that opportunity is now between here and the March period." ESPN's Mike Golic said, "It would be an unbelievable win if they had this thing done by March. I don't expect that to happen. I expect it to go right down to the start of maybe training camp" ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 9/8).

TWO KINDS OF LOCKOUT: ESPN’s Chris Mortensen noted that a team owner told him this spring that there will be “two lockouts we're looking at.” Mortensen: “The first one's probably going to happen, which is in March. That's the new league year. It's the second one, he said, we have to avoid, that being the start of the season. You look at contingency plans that are being put in place. They're even studying the 1982 season, when they only had nine games because of a strike. …When you start talking about looking at contingencies like the league is means this thing's got serious problems." ESPN's Adam Schefter said the two sides have to "try to get it done by March.” Schefter: “They're trying to sell season ticket renewals, they're trying to sell suites, they're trying to sell sponsorships. If the time comes in the spring where that passes and they don't sell a lot of this, then the NFL owners have taken a financial hit at that time and they're going to be more inclined to press for what they want in return. It's going to increase the chances of the second lockout that nobody wants to see." Mortensen: "There will be games played next year, I just don't know whether it's going to be a full season" ("SportsCenter Special," ESPN, 9/7). Santa Rosa Press Democrat columnist Lowell Cohn said, “I'd say it's entirely possible that we would lose games next season. It's happened before and I think it could happen again” (“Chronicle Live,” Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 9/8).

PLAYERS NOT OPTIMISTIC: NFLPA President Kevin Mawae said, "Fans have reason to be worried. I'm not going to sit here and tell the fans everything is going to be good when I tell my players to prepare for a lockout. The sad thing about it is the fans are the ones who are going to suffer" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 9/5). Vikings G and player rep Steve Hutchinson said, "I don't think there's any doubt there's going to be a work stoppage. How long? Who knows. It depends on what the owners' motive is. I know the players are united, so we're fully expecting there to be a lockout. We're making plans so that players are prepared for a year without football" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 9/7).

ALL GOOD THINGS COME TO AN END? In Toronto, Dave Feschuk writes under the header, "NFL Glory Days May Soon Be Over." Even if the league and NFLPA reach a new CBA and a "work stoppage is averted, there's reason to believe that the coming months will mark the end of a golden era of U.S.-based pro football." The NFL is "hurtling toward some perilous terrain" (TORONTO STAR, 9/9). The GLOBE & MAIL's Stephen Brunt writes the "subtext of the coming NFL season is anything but heart-warming." If the Saints winning last season's Super Bowl was "almost enough to make you forget the bottom line, the next 12 months -- and perhaps more -- are going to make it nearly impossible to suspend disbelief" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/9). YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole wrote perhaps no situation will define Goodell's "job performance and legacy more than how he navigates the CBA talks with the NFL Players Association to avoid the league’s first work stoppage since 1987." Goodell has to "fix a problem that has been a long time in the making, but is a deeply sore subject between the sides." At the same time, he has to "assuage paying customers who find the whole issue deeply annoying." Giants Chair & Exec VP Steve Tisch: "The fans don’t want to hear about our problems, they just want to see our games" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/8).

LOOKING AT BOTH SIDES: In Boston, Albert Breer wrote the NFL has "proven to be relatively recession-proof through the economic downturn," which is why, "in the eyes of the great majority of the general public, there are no 'good guys' in this fight." Patriots Owner Robert Kraft: "If I didn’t own a team, I’d be saying the same things. The public doesn’t want to see people who are doing OK on both sides quibbling over things. If I was a fan, that’s how I would feel." He added, "I know the fan base is hurting financially, and that’s why we have to continue to give them real value for their money. The trick of success is adding value to your product, and we’re trying to continuously do that." More Kraft: "I've never seen ownership as united as it is right now, and it's come out even in the way things are written on certain issues. The commissioner, too, is seeing the same things we see as being important. Some of that dissidence you've seen in the past has left the room." He said, "We know we have something special. We're not trying to take advantage of them, or get an edge. We're trying to make it right so we can continue to grow revenue. If one side has an edge, this isn't going to work" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/5).

TWO MORE FOR THE SHOW: In St. Paul, Brian Murphy wrote the proposal to expand the NFL regular season from 16 to 18 games is the "pivotal issue confronting" owners and the NFLPA in labor talks because it "shapes the business model that will drive negotiations." The league and union have "staked positions with ample room for compromise, but the road to consensus is riddled with potholes." Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy: "We feel it's a way to bridge the gap with the players. The biggest issue is the labor situation, and if this can help us bridge the gap and reach an agreement that's good for everybody, it will be a real positive for our fans." Hutchinson said, "I don't think we're opposed to it if it's gone about the right way for the players by increasing everything by one-eighth." He added, "If they want to pay and have an 18-game season, that's fine. You just can't add two games to it, though." SportsCorp President Marc Ganis cautions the NFLPA "against taking a stand" in opposition of schedule expansion. Ganis: "With all due respect to concerns about injuries and stress, this is the wrong place to put down their Maginot Line because more games benefits everyone. More players would have jobs, the union gets bigger and there's more revenue" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 9/5). Jets DE Jason Taylor said, "You take away two junk games and add two real ones, it would take a physical toll." Jets FB and player rep Tony Richardson added, "That's putting two years on a career like mine. I might not be standing here right now. As players, we have a lot of research and data to gather first" (SI, 9/6 issue).

TO EXPAND OR NOT TO EXPAND: In Orlando, George Diaz wrote an 18-game regular season is a "money grab, a way of squeezing more money out of TV and cable contracts and advertisers." Players "detest the thought of expanding the season because they want to be able to walk upright for the rest of their lives after they retire" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 9/6). In Pittsburgh, Gene Collier writes, "An 18-game schedule as opposed to a 16-game schedule raises an uncomfortable question: Why? Are not enough people being concussed as it is?" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/9). FSN's Petros Papadakis: “We have all of these rules in the NFL to protect guys. … All of a sudden they want to put two more games on the schedule. That's not protecting players. Certainly it's not and the risk of injury will go up exponentially" ("Jim Rome Is Burning," ESPN, 9/8). Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said, "The league is very disingenuous to at one time be looking seriously at concussions ... and then saying, 'Let's just throw in two more games.'" L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke: "I have felt no groundswell of fan support for 18 games. The fans didn't ask for this. The fans wanted fewer exhibition games, absolutely. But nobody's asking for more games" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 9/8). However, CBS' Phil Simms said, "It's coming. They really don't care what your opinion is, so it's over. ... It's not a democracy" ("Inside the NFL," Showtime, 9/8).

TAKES PRESEASON GAMES TO NON-NFL CITIES: In Dallas, Rick Gosselin wrote it is "criminal" that NFL teams "charge the same ticket price for that final exhibition game" as they do for regular-season contests. Gosselin: "If I were commissioner, I would incorporate a schedule that includes 18 regular-season games and two exhibition games, one at 'home,' one on the 'road.'" But those exhibition games "would not be part of the season-ticket package." They would be played in non-NFL cities, giving fans who "normally don't see NFL football a chance to see it." Teams also should "charge ticket prices in accordance with a night of football that does not matter -- which exhibition games are." Gosselin: "It's time the players and owners showed that the NFL truly is about the fan. It's time the owners and players start making some sacrifices themselves" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 9/7).

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