The dark clouds of labor war looming over the last few years of NFL football have now become a reality. At the height of professional football’s popularity, the deepest fears of fans worldwide came to fruition last Friday when the mediated negotiations between NFL owners and the NFLPA were terminated. The language of the league’s superstars, many of whom will be lead plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case against the NFL, suggest that there will not be an agreement to a new CBA in the near future and even this year’s draft is in danger according to some publications. We can only hope both sides have an appreciation for what they may be tampering with – in the last few years, the NFL has rapidly ascended into a premium entertainment product, but can easily lose the title of America’s #1 sport if the disagreement lasts too long and fans turn their backs with a sour taste in their mouth.
Sadly, I fear that we will see a shortened regular season, if (and that’s a pretty big “if” right now) there is any kind of season at all. That could cause serious problems for the small market teams of the NFL, including the Jaguars. How so? Let me explain…
Let’s start with the league itself. The NHL was never as popular as the NFL currently is, but the lockout that lasted through the entire 2004-05 season had devastating effects. Once the two sides came to an agreement and games started back up, matches were no longer broadcast on the national television networks, but on the Versus channel, which is a bit of a dropoff. It took several years to regain fan support, but at this point may be the fastest growing of the four major sports in the US. The broadcasting deals for the NFL are set for years and we all know that when an NFL games is on, there’s isn’t a program or event that can compete – even the Combine coverage had more viewership than any single game of this year’s MLB World Series! With a long lockout and postponed season, the NFL owners and players are risking losing that elite status.
Many believe that the NFL has reached a height too great to fall from, but what is the average middle-class American who’s fighting to pay his mortgage or keep his job supposed to think of this high public battle between millionaires and billionaires over amounts of money most cannot comprehend? Sure, many points of contention are for the average players of the league, making the minimum salary and struggling for a roster spot each year, but multi-millionaire superstars such as Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady will be the ones testifying on CNBC against Jerry Jones, Dan Snyder and Bob Kraft. Their stardom may garner more support from the jury, but it’s not helping the overwhelming image of greed.
That opinion could seriously hurt small-market teams and especially the Jaguars. Much of the Jacksonville fanbase consists of the hard working, blue collar types that make the wheels of America turn and make up the fanbases of other small markets like Pittsburgh, Green Bay, and Indianapolis. When they see this fight in court, many of them will ask themselves: “Why should these guys get my money? They’re fighting for enormous sums of money, while I’m struggling to pay my bills, pay my mortgage, fund my kids’s education…and they want me to commit to season tickets?” Sadly, this is a real good question and even more unfortunate is that Jacksonville does not have the fan loyalty of a Pittsburgh or a Green Bay nor is there enough wealth and excess of population to fill the seats if the middle-class fans abandoned the franchise. Tickets sales where very fragile even with all of the big ‘Team Teal Rallies and the great work of Tony Boselli & Co. in 2010 – I’m positive that owner Wayne Weaver wants a new CBA sooner than later because for him and more than a few other owners, this soon will be a fight against time. How much faith do the fans have in the franchise? Will they continue to buy season tickets or is goodwill in short supply? The longer the work unrest lasts, teams like the Jaguars are facing more and more trouble. Let’s hope there will be a new CBA sooner rather than later.
– Zoltan Paksa