In the wake of the enormous success of Super Bowl XLV, it’s extraordinarily difficult to imagine why the millionaires and billionaires of professional football are on the verge of shutting down the sport.
After drawing the largest audience in the history of television Sunday, the popularity of pro football has exploded even more, if that’s possible, reaching a zenith heretofore only dreamed of.
Watched at one time by roughly half the population of the United States, the sport has evolved into what Pete Rozelle, the late commissioner of the National Football League, envisioned when he hauled the league into the 20th century with his prescient thinking.
The NFL has never been more popular despite a couple of player strikes that would have seriously damaged other leagues. It is almost always the No. 1 topic on talk shows all around the country.
The National Basketball Association and National Hockey League are midway through their seasons and yet, most fans want to talk about professional football around the watercooler.
So why in the world would the players and owners risk damaging that popularity with either a lockout (by the owners) or a strike by the players (if the owners bring in replacement players) should the two sides fail to get together on a new collective bargaining agreement by March 3?
That makes absolutely no sense. In a business that generates $11 billion in revenues, why is it so difficult for the two sides to get together and hammer out a deal? The definitive answer is greed.
The two sides do not trust each other. The players don’t want the owners to get a lion’s share of the profits. And the owners believe the players are paid well enough to begin with.
The players want nearly 60% of the profits, while the owners’ bottom line is somewhere in the 55% range. Each side has drawn a line in the sand and seems unwilling to budge.
Both sides are hurling the normal bargaining rhetoric, which is to be expected. This time, however, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is taking a pro-active stance. While not getting directly involved in the negotiations, he appears to be moving the process along at a brisker pace than it would be had he remained neutral.
No doubt he realizes that if there is another work stoppage, it will be difficult for the league to explain to the fans the reasons behind it. And even though a stoppage would take place well before the start of a new season, it sends the wrong kind of message.
Such a move risks alienating those fans, many of whom will have trouble understanding why, especially in this economy, it’s so hard for the two sides to equitably divvy up this massive amount of money.
The NFL right now is the golden calf of sports. It makes money hand over fist. Its popularity is at its pinnacle. It doesn’t get any better than this.
And in the afterglow of the Super Bowl, it is incumbent on the players and owners to strike a deal instead of dealing with a strike.