As NFL Lockout Looms, Billions in Advertising at Stake


If one were to apply the language of football to the ad sales market, deploying the martially inflected argot sportswriters toss around like small bills—the bombs, the blitzes, the controlled bursts of aerial assault, the overheated paeans to firepower—it would be safe to say that this is the year that the NFL went thermonuclear. But with just hours to go before the Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire, the threat of a lockout could silence the artillery altogether.

While both sides remain entrenched in their respective positions, the NFL and the players union are now talking about taking a time-out in order to continue mediation. Stopping the clock would (at least temporarily) stay the league’s hand while also setting aside talk of NFLPA decertification.

As of Thursday afternoon, an extension looks like a last-second Hail Mary pass.

Should the deadline pass without an extension, the lockout would effectively prevent any communication between active NFL players and their respective franchises. Extend the stalemate far enough into training camp and preseason, and games will be struck from the schedule. In a worst case scenario, the entire 2011-12 campaign would be scuttled.

A work stoppage would also paralyze free agency, as no player contracts can be negotiated or signed during a lockout.

The players’ only viable gambit may be to vote for decertification, which would in turn allow them to seek an injunction against a lockout in a Minneapolis federal court. It’s a risky play, to be sure. By dissolving the union, players would waive their rights to collective bargaining although they could file individual antitrust claims against the NFL and the 32 team owners.

The NFLPA decertified once before in 1989. A subsequent settlement with the league four years later led to reformation of the union and the adoption of free agency.

Should this game of chicken between management and labor take a turn for the absolute worst, the NFL broadcast partners would sustain losses of hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenue. Indeed, the NFL plays such a critical role in the TV marketplace as a whole that even the loss of a handful of games could have a catastrophic impact on the spring upfront.

While both parties are said to be inching toward an agreement that would at the very least give them some breathing room, a player’s union rep earlier today said it was unlikely that a lockout can be avoided altogether.

Noted Chicago Bears fan President Barack Obama weighed in this afternoon, saying the NFL and the players “should be able to work it out without the president of the United States intervening.” In a press conference held earlier today at the White House, the president appealed to the participants’ better instincts. “I’m a big football fan, but I also think that for an industry that’s making $9 billion a year in revenue, they can figure out how to divide it up in a sensible way—and be true to their fans, who are the ones who, obviously, allow for all the money that they’re making.”Unknown Object

President Obama joked that a resolution had better be reached without his intervention, as “it turns out I’ve got a lot of other stuff to do.”

Understandably, the league’s broadcast partners (CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN) are assessing the specter of a work stoppage with all the enthusiasm of someone being asked to handle a radioactive dog turd. A few weeks ago, when asked to comment on the fact that Super Bowl XLV may prove to be the final NFL broadcast of 2011, Fox Sports Media Group chairman and executive producer David Hill could offer little in the way of reassurance.

“It would be a great tragedy,” Hill said. “We all know what happens after a strike or a lockout; fans turn away and it takes a while for them to come back. . . .I fervently hope that an agreement is possible, that there is no lockout, no industry dispute and the games go on as scheduled next September.”

Continue to next page →