Taking a beyond-the-headlines look at the pro football strike
The current strike between owners and the National Football League Players' Association has produced economic ramifications well beyond the locker room.
It has also touched the nation's little people; that miniature army of stadium workers, ushers, concessionaires, hotel and restaurant employees, etc. who somehow derive part of their living from pro football.
How many parking lot attendants do you think have been laid off because there have been no games going on seven weeks now? How many people you never think about - like those who film NFL games or sweep out stadiums or sell popcorn?
Although exact figures are often hard to check, it has been estimated that the three major television networks lose $4 million in advertising revenues every time they are unable to broadcast an NFL game. Now multiply that by seven weeks or three months or however long it takes to settle this strike and the numbers are staggering.
What triggered this open break between labor and management in the first place was the record five-year, $2.1-billion television contract that NFL owners signed this season with the networks. That translates into $14 million per owner per year for each of the league's 28 franchises.
Originally the players wanted 55 percent of that money, although they have since modified their demands. No doubt they deserve part of it, but it's the owners who take the financial risks. Their responsibilities are ongoing, while most player careers last an average of 4.2 years.
Yet another dimension was added to proceedings this week when a player delegation left strike headquarters in New York to visit the offices of the newly formed United States Football League, which is only four blocks away.
Players not only talked for more than 90 minutes with USFL commissioner Chet Simmons, but briefed him on the number of NFL stars whose contracts are due to expire within the next few months.
''We stand by our statement that we will not interfere with the valid, bonafide NFL contract,' said Simmons, ''but the question is, what if the player is in his option year? Then we'll give him a chance to talk to the USFL club. . .''
Players claim that 352 of their brethren, or 23 percent of the union, would be free agents by Feb. 1 and eligible to sign with the new league. Although not yet a rich organization, the USFL does have a contract with network television to show weekly games, beginning in March.
Meanwhile those NFL officials and players who cling to the belief that the strike will be settled by the weekend of Nov. 14 continue to talk about the possibility of a 12-game season.
Bearing in mind that two of those games have already been played, the other 10 could be accomodated if the league were to get underway no later than Nov. 14 and if an extra game were added on Thanksgiving Day. The open dates between what would have been the end of the regular season and the Super Bowl on Jan. 30 would also have to be utilized (one of these being the first playoff week, which has been used for wild card games since 1978).
The problem here is that most players say they would need a second training camp, not only to sharpen their skills but to protect themselves from injury. Anyway, the NFL actually played a 12-game championship schedule between 1947 and 1960, although there were fewer teams in the league at that time.
One thing is certain: both the owners and the players need each other. If the players didn't already know this, they must have tumbled onto this fact after staging two all-star games on their own recently that together attracted fewer than 15,000 spectators.
But even that figure is misleading, since more than one-third of that total were allowed in free. Ted Turner, whose cable broadcasting system televised both games nationwide, told reporters afterward that his company lost $800,000 on this venture. Meanwhile another $200,000 was dropped by Sports Events Inc., the promoters of the games.
The games themselves were only reasonable facsimilies of what fans normally see Sunday afternoons. Regular NFL rules were ignored in some areas. For example, both teams agreed that neither would blitz on defense. There were reasonably good pass plays, but nothing any better than you'd see in most college games.
Most NFL fans would probably be willing to accept almost any compromise to see the season resume. And the Super Bowl could still be played in Pasadena, Calif., at the end of January. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle says that date is virtually untouchable because of TV commitments and the logistical problems that would arise in rescheduling the game.