Saturday, February 5, 2011

Who has the upper hand?

With the impending lock-out, a lot of what we're hearing in the media seems to be that the owners will eventually break the players. But recently I have heard tidbits here and there that indicate the owners may not have as much leverage as they want us to believe. Three examples:

First, the league has been telling us for months how fans want 18 regular season games. Yet a new poll, not conducted by the NFL, is indicating otherwise.

Of everyone surveyed, 27 percent strongly favor or somewhat favor adding two regular-season games and dropping two preseason games. When the group is narrowed to those identifying themselves as NFL fans, support for the change rises to a total of 45 percent — yet only 18 percent who strongly favor it.

Suddenly, it's not just the players and even the occasional executive pushing back on the 18 game schedule; the fans themselves are saying they either don't care, or outright don't want it.

Second, owners speculate the players will cave once they begin to lose game checks. But the NFLPA warned the players that they should begin saving before the season ended. And from recent media reports, it sounds as though the players have taken the advice to heart. Players aren't as rich as the billionaire owners who can afford for games not to be played. But if there's no threat that players will be hurt financially, how much pressure does it put back on the owners with millions in lost revenue likely?

Third, the NFLPA is fighting back against clubs acting like it's business as usual this off-season, claiming teams cannot use the franchise tag. If teams can't use franchise tags until a new labor agreement is reached (and I agree with the players' side of the can a team use a tag if we don't know if tags will exist in the new CBA?), they're at risk of losing their best players in free agency with no compensation once a new deal is signed.

I used to believe the owners held all the cards. Now I'm not so sure. To me, it appears the players have a pretty powerful position themselves. And two greedy groups at each other's throats in positions of power can stall a new deal signing for a long time.

That means the real loser in this fight is most likely to be us, the fans.


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