This is more NFL-centric news rather than Tampa Bay Buccaneers news, but it will have the same impact on the entire league, our Bucs included. With Super Bowl week at full speed as of today, we'll hear a lot about the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers. Stories of personal triumphs, hardships, long roads, and humorous events will certainly come out in the zoo known as Media Day. The league seems intent on focusing talk on the game rather than the surrounding fog known as CBA negotiations, and for good reason.
No one has any answers.
We're headed into what should be the biggest week for the NFL as an entity. But it almost seems that for those of us not wearing cheeseheads or hard hats, there's a bigger event on the horizon. That event, the draft notwithstanding, is the deadline for the CBA. The CBA expiration actually occurred last year, and this leadup to Super Bowl week and the three weeks after it could equate into the final days of the NFL.
An agreement may get struck that keeps the structure of the CBA relatively in place or it may change substantially. What we don't know is if anything will get done. Anytime you hit up ProFootballTalk, NFL.com, ESPN, or any other mainstream website/entity you read an article painting a bleak picture. The articles used to read "when a deal is struck" or "when an 18 game season is agreed upon." Now its words like "lockout", "strike", and "impasse" that fill the headlines. The latest bit of news is that neither side will blink on the key issues (percentage of revenue, 18 game season are the two biggest issues) and as a result, the clock will strike 12, the league will turn into a ghost town, and the fans will be the one left holding the bag.
Now before you say this won't happen, the players and their reps have acknowledged they got a pretty sweet deal in 2006. The owners know this too. The owners want to fix that, but the players want to keep the piece of the pie they have grown accustomed to, and why shouldn't they want that? It's a business on both sides and both sides want to put more money in the bank. But as is common in negotiations, two mindsets, two different objectives, and the leadership more interested in throwing out rhetoric than discussing real issues, the uncertainty could continue on through early spring and even into the summer if the two sides don't get it together. It's becoming more of a political campaign with mud-slinging and verbal accusation rather than holing up in an office somewhere and debating the issues. This doesn't need to play out in public view. Most fans don't care how the CBA reads. They want lower prices (or status quo at worst) and football on Sundays.
I don't like to compare the two sports, but the net result could be similar to the baseball strike in 1994. Baseball was hugely popular across all demographics and was in a dead share with the NFL with approx 23% of the population claiming baseball was their favorite and 23% saying football was their favorite. Fast forward to last year and it was 16% to 35% in favor of football. Sure football has become more popular on its own, but the strike hurt baseball. My experience with baseball was like most peoples. I grew up playing T-ball and moved on to Little League. I loved the game. Every morning while eating breakfast with my parents I'd read the paper, look at box scores, memorize players stats, know who lead the league in each category and look forward to a game almost every night. I could rattle off rotations and lineups for just about every team. I was a fan. Until the strike. As a kid I couldn't quite grasp what happened. Baseball was gone because the rich didnt feel like they were rich enough. That may or may not have been the issue, but to a kid who only grasps what he reads and hears (and remember, 24/7 Sportscenter wasn't around then), that was the only issue I saw. So while baseball faded away, I turned to what was left, football. I quickly became immersed in the sport and my affinity for baseball soon became a thing of the past.
Of course, that's just the cliff notes version of my sports arc, but losing baseball back then was like losing a friend. It hurt the growth of the sport in my eyes, and football is about to take the same path.
This past year, football fell to 31% with baseball climbing to 17%. If you think this lockout/strike/impasse won't affect the NFL's popularity, think again. The common argument you'll hear is "How can people who make millions complain over a few thousand when so many of us are out of work." The NFL and NFLPA better get their act together quickly, or football may plummet in popularity. Both sides would be smart to learn from other people's mistakes and find common ground to move forward on. Otherwise, we may be facing a potentially endless summer where mini-camps don't exist and training camps never happen.
Keep those eyes and ears open, if the a new CBA will get hammered out, we'll hear about it in the next month.