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Labor lessons

Joe Wirth | Thursday, March 31, 2011

Two months ago, Aaron Rogers received the snap from center Scott Wells, took a knee and the Packers were world champions. Pandemonium ensued, as grown men were moved to tears and confetti filled the air.

That was the last time we saw football on television and if the recent developments of the collective bargaining negotiations are any indication, our televisions could be without football for a very long time.

With the year-round interest the NFL has created, this time of year we are usually concerned with which free agent our team will pick up or hooked on which college prospect our team will draft. Instead, we are forced to watch the same B-roll footage on ESPN of Roger Goodell and other suits walking into some New York City office building.

This labor stoppage is not unique. As with every sporting labor strike, the players think the owners are egotistical and making too much money, while the owners are trying to maintain a profit — it is a business after all. We have heard the grievances on both sides before, just in different sports. The 1994 MLB strike killed baseball’s popularity. In the years following the work stoppage, baseball parks were marred by thousands of empty seats and only a legendary (and as it turned out, fake) home run chase could bring the sport out of the doldrums.

The entire 2005 NHL season was wiped out because of a strike and the sport has yet to recover. While they did not suffer from the same attendance drop-off, their television popularity has not been the same (mostly due to the fact that ESPN did not want to renew with them as a partner).

The NFL became the dominant sporting enterprise it is today in part because of the strikes in these other sports, especially baseball. It took advantage of the absence of the other sports to become the new American pastime. If they are not careful, they could fall victim to their own greed. I am not saying the NFL will suffer from these common results of a work stoppage, but they are playing a dangerous game and placing a lot of trust that their fans will remain faithful.

Yes, there are important issues like retiring players receiving the proper medical benefits in their post-football lives. The majority of the issues, however, seem petty and to the average fan it seems like the negotiations are just millionaires arguing with other millionaires over who will make more money.

The NFL has gotten it right. They are the standard. Other sports model themselves after the NFL’s business plan. They have record television contracts and advertisers pay incredible amounts of money so that their products can be seen on Sunday afternoons in the fall. So thequestion is, why try and fix something that is not broken?

Nobody wins during a work stoppage. Both sides lose money. Do I think the holdout will last through the season? No, but the fact that both sides are threatening to says they are out of touch with the fans. Fan interest is what fuels the NFL machine, and if they alienate them during these negotiations, the NFL will feel the ramifications of this strike for years to come.

For the most part, fans are not interested in the labor negotiations — all we care about is that on Sunday afternoons in the fall we have football on our televisions.