Fans could be game-changer in NFL labor dispute 

As hearings resume in the 8th District Court of Appeals today, the Sports Fans Coalition has filed a brief with the court asking that the NFL lockout be lifted.

The NFL coaches association has also filed a brief. Coaches want to be able to work with players, as they usually do with minicamps in the offseason, but they are hamstrung by the lockout.

The most interesting part of this to me is the involvement of the fans group. Because of social networking, fans are now able to make their voices heard on this issue and others in the NFL that affect them.

In a telephone interview, Brian Frederick, executive director of the Sports Fan Coalition, told me, “We’re not coming down on the side of the players particularly, but we believe the best chance for NFL football this fall is if the owners do not lock out the players. We are not taking a position on how players and owners divide up billions of dollars in revenue, but given the massive public investment in the game, the best result is if the courts knock out the lockout.”

That would be popular with fans, too. For the first time in these NFL labor disputes, players seem to have more support than owners. That may be because they’re getting more information, from the media and from the Sports Fans Coalition.

This is not the only issue being confronted by the group. They’re also putting pressure on the NFL to lift the blackout for home games that are not sold out. “It’s ridiculous that they’re doing this while playing in stadiums which have been built with public financing,” Frederick said.

There were more blackouts last fall, because the economy is down. Teams in the Midwest were especially hard-hit.

In the Bay Area, the 49ers have bought tickets for years to create “sellouts” and prevent blackouts. The Raiders did that for a time, but have dropped that policy, so most of their home games have been blacked out.

The NFL Network reported that league commissioner Roger Goodell and owners Robert Kraft (New England), Jerry Jones (Dallas), Jerry Richardson (Carolina), John Mara (New York Giants) and Dan Rooney (Pittsburgh) met with DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, on Wednesday. While the union has decertified, Smith and player representatives are still in talks with the league.

The lockout was ordered lifted by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson, but a three-judge panel from the U.S. District Court of Appeals ordered a temporary stay. The same panel will begin discussions today in St. Louis on whether the stay should be made permanent. The two sides are also supposed to resume mediation sessions
Tuesday.

“I’ve met with both sides,” said Frederick, “and I believe they both want to reach an agreement, but they’re far apart in what they want.”

The owners know they have time on their side because players cannot afford to lose a year of their careers. Now, there is pressure being applied by fans. But if the lockout remains in place, the season remains in peril.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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Glenn Dickey

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