Has there ever been a plumper goose or an egg more golden in sports than the National Football League right now?
Ratings for the Super Bowl reached an all-time record for a program, sports or otherwise, on American television. Announced attendance at the game — played in a $1.2 billion edifice — was 103,219, a 31-year high. NFL franchises are worth, on average, $1.02 billion, according to Forbes. Player income is at an all-time high.
The worst news for the NFL this past weekend was that, through a ticket foul-up, it had 400 more ticket-holding patrons than it had seats available at the Super Bowl. Every league should have that kind of demand.
Yet the NFL could be 23 days away from locking out its players in its first work stoppage in nearly a quarter-century.
All that moolah flowing to them and not only haven’t the parties been able to work this out, there hasn’t been much urgency exhibited on doing so. Consider that the first real sit-down bargaining session since Thanksgiving didn’t take place until Saturday.
Meanwhile the tweets, charges and counter-charges are flying. How long before the football’s do again is anybody’s guess.
You’d like to think that some reality will intrude and sanity might prevail. But, then, history has shown us that isn’t always the case in sports labor disputes. In the NFL alone, there have been three stoppages — most recently in 1987 — though it is noteworthy they were strikes.
This time we have the owners threatening to bolt the clubhouse doors and chain the stadium gates if the players don’t acquiesce to terms.
To be sure, the league owes it to its owners to reach the best deal it can because, after all, you never know where your next yacht is coming from. And the duty of the players’ union is to its players, who have a limited time in which to make their money. Especially if the schedule ends up going to 18 regular-season games.
The owners insist that while more money is rolling in, costs are up, too. The players are reluctant to give back any gains, especially if they are going to be playing 18 games instead of 16. If you need to cut costs so badly, the players say, show us the books.
Somewhere in there is a common and still lucrative plot of ground that is sure to meet both of their needs for another five years if only they set about trying to reach it in earnest. Whenever that might be.
In the meantime it is hard for fans to work up too much sympathy. Especially if they’ve had their paychecks cut back, benefits reduced or household members left jobless.
So far lost — if not largely ignored — in all of this is the fans. The ones who will ultimately end up paying for whatever deal is eventually worked out.
The same ones who have been carrying the enterprise on their backs by shelling out for the overpriced jerseys, tickets and concession fare. Not to mention paying the tax bills on the building and operation of those stadiums the NFL plays in.
The NFL and its players have a great thing going. It would be a shame if greed cooked this goose.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.