Are you ready for some football? Strap on your cheese hats and break out those oversized foam fingers because the NFL is officially back in business after the Players Association executive committee voted unanimously to ratify the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement with franchise owners, ending the four-month lockout.
Members of the NFLPA executive board and all 32 team representatives gave the thumbs up to the proposal, which was first approved by league owners last week.
While the 1,900 NFL players still need to vote on the deal, given the unanimous approval of the union heads, that exercise appears to be all but a formality.
The agreement was announced at around 2 p.m. EDT, when NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the clutch of media huddled around the entrance to the union’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.
“I know it has been a very long process since the day we stood here in March,” Smith said. “But our guys stood together when nobody thought we would. And football is back because of it.”
Smith went on to say that the time had come for all parties concerned to start thinking of pro football in terms of an ongoing partnership.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Goodell. “Football is back and that’s great news for everybody.”
Goodell added that the NFL would work hard to ensure that it regains the trust of the fans who had been alienated by the four-month ordeal. “We know what we did to frustrate our fans over the last several months,” he said. “I think we have some work to do to make sure they understand that we are sorry for the frustration we put them through over the last six months. Our commitment is to bring them better football going forward.”
Among the terms hashed out in the 10-year deal are a new revenue sharing model, a rookie wage scale, and an updated salary cap. One of the more divisive issues that was put to bed early was a proposed 18-game regular season, which players strongly opposed.
While it won’t bring in nearly as much revenue as two bonus weeks of football, a new package of eight Thursday night games should alleviate the sting a bit; sources estimate the slate could fetch as much as $600 million per season. Turner Broadcasting and Comcast-NBCU are said to be the most well-positioned suitors for the new octet, although Fox Sports may be inclined to put in a bid on behalf of FX.
The end of the lockout should not only restore goodwill among fans—most of whom will forget the work stoppage ever happened once the Saints and Packers kick off the season at Lambeau Field on Sept. 8—but it salvages as much as $3 billion in advertising revenue at Fox, NBC, CBS, and ESPN.
Nothing else on television comes close to delivering the NFL’s ratings. According to Nielsen, NBC’s Sunday Night Football last season averaged 21.2 million viewers per broadcast, making it the most-watched package on the dial. Fox’s Sunday afternoon games averaged 19.5 million, while CBS’ slate of Sunday games averaged 18.2 million viewers.
On the cable dial, ESPN’s Monday Night Football averaged 14.1 million viewers. The NFL Network drew some 5.5 million viewers with its eight-game slate; its deliveries are lower because the channel does not enjoy full distribution.
Based on a timetable released by the NFL, training camps will open as early as Wednesday. Free agency signings could begin this Friday (July 29).